Tuesday, May 15, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Las Vegas sports fans are easy to figure out.
If the Southern Nevada team is winning, locals will flock in big numbers to home games. If the team is marginal or below average, expect the attendance numbers to drop.
Whether it is the beloved UNLV basketball team or the lightly followed UNLV football program, if a winning product is on the field, there’s a good chance the local fan base will be firmly on the bandwagon.
The atmosphere inside the Orleans Arena Monday night for the Las Vegas Wranglers hockey team’s Kelly Cup Finals game against the Florida Everblades serves as a perfect example. Most games for this Double-A level minor league team are lightly attended — unless it’s a weekend or one of the organization’s clever promotion nights (such as the annual Midnight Game) — but that wasn’t the case for the Wranglers 2-1 victory in this best-of-seven series.
It’s 45 minutes before the puck was dropped and the scene outside the Orleans Arena resembles the memorable night last November when the undefeated UNLV basketball team took on top-ranked North Carolina on national television at the facility. Like that evening, there was a buzz in the air and an anxious excitement worthy of a championship environment.
A line of at least 100 fans, several wearing Wranglers jerseys (mind you, on a near 100-degree Las Vegas day), patiently waited for their turn to purchase tickets. A few feet next to the line, others took photos with the Bruce Taylor Trophy, which the Wranglers won last week by defeating Alaska in the ECHL Western Conference finals for their first Kelly Cup appearance since 2008.
On the inside, refreshment windows were packed five people deep in virtually every line. The souvenir store was also full with patrons looking for team apparel.
“I’m a hockey fan, but more of a Las Vegas fan,” said John Carter, 33, who has attended about 40 Wranglers games per season the last four years. “This is one of the few sports teams we have that we can go cheer for.”
Several of the announced 5,729 fans surely weren’t regular attendees of home games — a fact that made the night even more impressive for the team’s ownership, who ultimately hopes the suspenseful victory will give fans a reason to come back Tuesday for the second game of the series, and more important, next season.
The fans cheered wildly from start to finish, rose in excitement when goals were nearly scored and were seemingly on the edge of their seat the entire evening. Also, most wore white shirts for a white-out promotion to further create a home ice advantage.
“This is fantastic. If you create this kind of excitement in the town, especially for the local population, it will bleed over and work well for next year because people will be excited for hockey,” said Gary Jacobs, the Wranglers’ second-year owner.
Ownership has promoted the franchise as Las Vegas’ team all season with the slogan “Your Town, Your Team” as a rallying cry for fans. In a pregame ceremony, the public address announcer hammered home the theory with this message: “This is your town. This is your team,” he said. “There is no championship without you Las Vegas.” The pregame festivities included boxing legend Mike Tyson yelling “Wranglers Rule” from the ice while trying to fire-up the crowd.
Everything seemed to work.
The Wranglers scored the game’s first two goals before Florida cut its deficit to one with about two minutes to play. The vocal home crowd, one that seemed to get louder during the final period, made a difference. From “Let’s go Wranglers” chants to ringing of bells after big plays, the fans will able to create an atmosphere the players thrived in.
“They’re definitely like our seventh man on the ice. It’s fun to see everybody up there having fun and it’s even more of a good time when we can get a win for them,” left wing Peter MacArthur said. “It’s great that Vegas has got behind this team. We’re a fun team to watch and to be a part of. The more support we got the better.”
During intermissions, a few fans were spotted walking back to the ticket booth. They were inquiring about tickets for Tuesday’s second game, and for the sixth and seventh games (if necessary) of the series next week.
Yes, Vegas does support a winner.
The Orleans Arena, a Boyd Gaming facility located just west of the Las Vegas Strip, is one of the nation’s leading mid-sized arenas, and was recently ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 5 internationally among venues of similar size by Venues Today Magazine.
The Arena hosts more than 200 events each year, including concerts by top names like Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Van Halen, Brooks & Dunn, Black Eyed Peas, Akon and Rihanna; family favorites like The Harlem Globetrotters and Circus Spectacular; and a wide variety of sporting events, including NCAA basketball tournaments, the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference Basketball Championships, mixed martial arts with Superior Cage Combat, and major motorsports events.
The arena serves as home to the Las Vegas Wranglers professional ECHL hockey team, the Las Vegas Legends professional indoor soccer team, and the Lingerie Football League’s Las Vegas Sin. Stay connected to the Orleans Arena on Facebook (www.facebook.com/orleansarena) and on Twitter (@orleansarena).