What’s Next for Utah Professional Sports?

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Chad Davis

The home of the Minnesota Vikings. (Image via WikiMedia Commons)

By Carlos Padilla, Sports Writer

 

Utah is one of the fastest-growing states in the country. With its tech boom in Lehi, a family-friendly atmosphere and beautiful lands, the beehive state attracts more and more residents every year. With growth comes a need for more entertainment, and entertainment means sports.

Utah has traditionally been a college sports state, focusing on the flagship University of Utah and arch-rival Brigham Young University. As of recent, other colleges such as Utah State and Weber State have immensely improved their programs, making them just as valid teams to root for.

While college sports have been the bread and butter of Utah, the main attraction centers around the Utah Jazz. This professional basketball team has produced great moments for Utah, including two of the best players to ever play the game (Karl Malone and John Stockton). Basketball and college sports have long dominated the Utah scene, but times are changing.

Utah is now host to a major league men’s and women’s soccer team (Real Salt Lake and Royals FC), the Salt Lake Bees (triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team), and the Utah Grizzlies (an affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche). While sports have definitely boomed in Utah, the state continues to grow. As is the Utah way, it is time to plan for the future. What is the next sports franchise to come to the state?

While Utah is growing, it is essential to remember that the state will be considered a small market. Therefore, whatever new franchise moves in will have to be able to be successful from smaller crowds. This quickly eliminates an expansion franchise from the NFL. On top of the need for loads of fans and high paying potential, Utah is still a very religious state, and playing Sunday would not sit well with the LDS Church.

While baseball may seem like a valid option, Utah may still not be big enough to support filling an entire MLB stadium. On top of that, baseball is a very high paying sport, and the Utah market may not be willing or able to pay that amount of cash.

Taking into account the historic winter elements of Utah, the love for contact sports, the smaller market and the already existing fanbase, there seems to be one great fit for the next professional franchise: hockey.

As expansion teams such as the Las Vegas Golden Knights have shown, hockey is becoming increasingly popular out west. Hockey is a popular sport in Utah, with many competitive, rec and high school teams across the state. Utah has already dipped its toe into the hockey arena with the previously mentioned Grizzlies. While the Grizzlies have been an excellent subsidiary team, it may be time for Utah to make the jump to having a full-fledged team in the NHL.

Utah would be able to build and fill a modest NHL arena, attract enough talent to make the expansion franchise competitive and tie hockey into its winter identity. While hockey may not be the most popular sport in Utah, it definitely appears to be the correct sport to add to the ranks of professional sports teams in the state.

 

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