NFL on CBS recently asked this online question: If the NFL announced a new expansion team, what city do you think most deserves it?
Salt Lake City got more mentions than you might guess.
I’ve always thought Utah would one day become a prime place for the country’s most popular pro sports league to have a franchise. One day. Is that day drawing closer? Close enough to the point where it might actually be an authentic candidate? Or be talked about as a candidate? Or deserve to be a candidate?
It is, especially on that last one.
On my radio show, some 20 years ago, my partner and I got into a discussion about this very topic. And I said, based on my conversations with Larry Miller, with whom I’d privately spent an hour discussing the possibility, I thought there was a decent chance within a couple of decades or so that it could become a reality.
My partner, who I greatly respected at that time and still do, came up with a distinct designation for me for settling on that conclusion. He said I was being — let’s see, what was the exact word? oh yeah — an “idiot.”
Utah’s population was too small. Its corporate capability as far as sponsorship dollars was too limited. Its football fan bases were too college oriented. Its cultural and religious attitudes were too restrictive as far as allowance for or fan availability to attend games on Sundays.
Maybe I was being an idiot. But maybe not.
We weren’t talking about then. We were talking about now, or at some time in the not-too-distant future.
What do you think?
Is Salt Lake City, is the entirety of the Wasatch Front, reaching a point where it could or would sustain and support an NFL team? It would be expensive, costing billions. It would take a load of corporate dollars. It might take taxpayers willing to help out at least partially with the cost of a stadium. It would require a fan base, even among the faithful, willing to skip out on church meetings or go after them to fill up a stadium, to buy all kinds of concessions and drink mugfuls of beverages at overinflated prices.
If individuals here choose not to go to games on Sunday, for whatever reasons, that’s all good.
But we’re talking pro football here. The freaking N … F … L. Not some startup outfit trying to generate interest in a substandard league made up of a bunch of former college players not quite good enough to play in the biggest show. This is the king of professional sports in this country.
When the Jazz first came to Utah back in the late ‘70s, it was thought by some that the NBA couldn’t compete against the enormously popular college teams around here. And since the Jazz settled in, college basketball in this state has been reeling, trying to find a way to generate or re-generate some method for drawing fans to games.
Nobody can dispute that when it comes to basketball in Utah, the Jazz are comparatively untouchable.
College football in these parts has taken hold, especially with the growth of the University of Utah’s program, existing and thriving as it does in the Pac-12. BYU has always been a strong draw, and now that the Cougars have found a home in the Big 12, if they can respond and adapt the way the Utes have in the Pac-12, that popularity will increase.
Not sure that any kind of newfound love affair with the NFL would diminish the college passion all that much, if at all. It might even boost it.
Football has gotten fundamentally popular in this state, and the mix of college and pro endeavors would, in my opinion, boost it to new heights.
Exactly where an owner would come from, who that would be, what group of individuals could pull that off, I’m not sure. But with the tech industry growing here at the rate it’s advancing, as well as other corporate booms, it seems far more promising in that regard than it once was.
Some studies done, studies that include factors of all kinds, from regional economics to personal income to an adequate nearby airport to market size and population growth, indicate that Salt Lake City is a most viable future location for the NFL.
The cultural/religious question is a fascinating one. Would an adequate portion of the Latter-day Saint population buy into the idea? I remember once having a conversation with a prominent Christian leader, a man of faith and influence who started a university and ran a large church in California, who said the following words, as they pertained to his university fielding athletic teams as a part of its foundation.
“Sports,” he said, “is the God of our age.”
He didn’t mean it literally, but he did mean that sports buttress many aspects of life. And that it can act as a benefit to whatever community is attached to it.
The Jazz have seen that they play a role in unifying a state that is deeply divided when it comes to college rivalries, and that that unification helps fans decked out in various shades of red and blue blend into the Jazz’s shades of purple.
Think about what an NFL team might favorably do for this community, as it pertains not just to college rivalries, but also other sometimes sizable divides, from politics to personal philosophies to religion. The NFL is far from perfect, and it’s hardly a full-on charitable organization. But there are some nice bennies that come alongside.
With the growth in Utah, population-wise, economics-wise, diversity-wise, attitude-wise, football-wise, I’m not sure my projections back in the day were so idiotic, after all.
Whether the NFL sees it that way, or will ever see it, is another question.
But equally important, before all of that, is the way Utah sees itself.
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