USATSI_9351818_154158418_lowresIt’s official: the National Hockey League has approved an expansion franchise in Las Vegas.

As we’ve been reporting, the NHL is set to become the first of the four major sports leagues to put a team in Vegas. The league’s 31st team will begin playing in the 2017-2018 season, with the franchise approved in a unanimous vote during the Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday.

This is the NHL’s first expansion venture since 2000-2001, when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets entered the league.

Bill Foley will be the principal owner of the new Las Vegas franchise and he’ll pony up the $500 million expansion fee, which will be distributed evenly among the rest of the 30 teams.

“Our great sports town now has a major league franchise, the NHL,” Foley said. “It’s the best of the leagues. It’s a legendary league. Las Vegas is my home along with 2.3 million other people. We want everyone to be a fan. We’re dedicated to it. We’ll leave no stone unturned in our dedication and our pursuit of hockey here in Las Vegas, not just for our team, but for the community.”

Foley’s plan is to have the new club’s name and logo in place for the 2016-2017 season, so he can begin marketing and selling merchandise in anticipation for the official debut. Right now, word around the campfire is that the Vegas team could be called the Black Knights due to Foley’s ties to West Point.

The NHL also voted to defer the application from Quebec City, which essentially puts the expansion process from Quebecor off the table for now. There are no plans to “recycle back” to the application and relocation is not being considered. Factors like geographic imbalance and the struggling Canadian dollar were cited as key reasons to defer the Quebec application.

That said, the Quebec City bid is still theoretically possible and discussions may be ongoing.

For now, though, it’s all about Vegas.

The new team will play in the T-Mobile Arena, west of the Las Vegas Strip. The arena, which opened in April, will hold 17,368 for a hockey game. The franchise received 14,000 deposits for season tickets and has sold all of the luxury seats thanks to Foley’s ticket drive some 16 months ago. The owner claims to have sold 400 season tickets in the past week alone.

The next step is for the Vegas team to set up a department of hockey operations and to start preparing for the expansion draft. As we reported, the league has already disseminated the rules and seem prepared for the process. That should make for an interest few months as teams scramble to protect the right players ahead of expansion.

“The team coming into the most competitive league in sports will have a roster that will be competitive more quickly than prior expansions,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

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