Salt Lake City is getting a new professional sports team. But it’s not baseball, hockey or basketball.
League One Volleyball announced Monday that it has chosen SLC as the site for its fourth team, joining Atlanta, Houston and Madison, Wisconsin.
Katlyn Gao, co-founder and CEO of LOVB, told The Salt Lake Tribune that Salt Lake is a “growing city” that hit the mark in terms of youth participation, volleyball fandom in the market, and lack of saturation for the sport.
“It felt like a no-brainer,” Gao said.
During the 2021-22 school year, nearly 3,806 girls participated in high school volleyball in Utah, per the latest data from the National Federation of High Schools. That’s slightly less than soccer, but more than basketball and softball.
Volleyball’s popularity in the Beehive State is palpable. BYU and Utah’s teams consistently qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and several high-level club teams operate in the Salt Lake Valley.
LOVB, Gao said, operates two clubs in Utah. Club V has a northern location in Salt Lake, and a southern one in Lindon. Club 801 is out of Lehi. The company has bought or started local clubs in cities all over the country in an effort to build community relationships first rather than just introducing a pro league to the masses and hoping they’ll care.
“It was extremely intentional,” Gao said. “We literally said, ‘There’s a pro league missing here. But we need to do this in a smart way.’”
The pro team in Salt Lake will practice at Club V. Gao said the team will practice in one of their youth volleyball hubs so younger players can have constant interaction with professional players.
“We really are looking at this almost like a European soccer style, where the youth and the pro are literally in the same home,” Gao said.
Gao added that a separate venue where the actual games on the schedule will be played is still being finalized.
The league on Monday also announced the signings of Olympic medalists Jordan Thompson, Micha Hancock, Carli Lloyd, Jordyn Poulter and Lauren Carlini. What cities those players and future signees will play for is yet to be determined.
Kelsey Robinson, Haleigh Washington and Justine Wong-Orantes — all of whom played for Team USA — are also signed with the league.
The league is slated to begin play after the Paris Olympics in 2024. The season will run from November to April, a similar timeline to the NBA and NHL.
Goa said the league will start with six cities and look to expand from there. She believes LOVB will stand the test of time because it started from the ground up, and has lofty goals for what it can become.
“Our goal is nothing less than being the NBA of volleyball,” Gao said. “We know that it’ll take time for us to get there.”