Long before attending this month’s AFC championship game in Denver, Tim Shirley remembers seeing the Broncos nearly every Sunday when he turned on the television in his childhood home in Tremonton.
"They just became my team," said Shirley, who now lives in Lehi.
Because of geography and their TV presence in Utah, the Broncos are loved — and hated — throughout the state. Denver is the local CBS affiliate’s primary choice for Sunday afternoon telecasts, to the delight of many fans and the torment of others.
Either way, "Our phone lights up every weekend," said KUTV general manager Kent Crawford.
The effect is that Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII will make Utahns very happy, regardless of the outcome between the Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. In Utah, there’s Broncomania and Bronco fatigue, and the station’s programming decisions fuel both responses.
The eight-hour drive and short flights from Salt Lake City to Denver also enable Utahns to attend games at Sports Authority Field. In 2012, Utah residents held 135 season-ticket accounts, covering 402 seats, according to the team, and many other fans make single-game trips.
Yet television is the access point for most NFL devotees. Brad Orgill, of Grantsville, traces his dislike of Denver to the early 1980s and "hearing my dad yelling at the TV, when the Broncos were on again."
Same story with Andrew Zaugg, of Bountiful, who grew up as a Cincinnati Bengals fan and recalls seeing network promotions for their games "or regional action," which usually meant Denver. So his viewpoint went from "Argh, it’s the Broncos’ game" to "Stupid Broncos" to "I hate the Broncos."
Those emotions surfaced in a pre-cable TV era. Fans now can subscribe to NFL packages for out-of-market games, but most viewers are subject to a local station’s choices.
Programming is a business decision. KUTV is Salt Lake City’s longtime broadcaster of AFC games, going back to its ties with NBC (coincidentally, the station switched to CBS in 1995, a few years before the NFL awarded the AFC contract to the network).
Aside from prime-time contests, CBS broadcasts every game involving an AFC road team. That gives KUTV access to about a dozen of Denver’s 16-regular season games. The choice is not automatic, as Crawford consults with staff members, but Denver drives ratings — even without a glamorous matchup.
"It’s spoken by people’s remotes," said Crawford, citing the station’s 11.3 rating for Broncos’ games this season, compared with 6.5 for other teams.
"I know not everybody’s a Broncos fan, but the majority of the people love to see the Broncos."
That group includes Tyler King, of Harrisville, who said, "I have never understood those who pick a team to support with no regional tie."
Denver’s success as the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed of the past two seasons and the team’s signing of quarterback Peyton Manning undoubtedly have boosted ratings. Yet Orgill said, "I loved Peyton Manning in his [Indianapolis] Colts days and it broke my heart that I wouldn’t be able to cheer for him anymore."
The San Francisco 49ers are another big draw in Utah, with an influx of Californians in the state and interest driven by former quarterbacks Steve Young of BYU and Alex Smith of Utah. KSTU, Salt Lake City’s Fox affiliate, has access to most NFC games and will televise this year’s Super Bowl.
Editor’s Note: The Tribune maintains a news-gathering partnership with KUTV.
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