Sandy • When Real Salt Lake opened Rio Tinto Stadium here in 2008, it cemented the franchise as one of the early adopters of soccer-specific venues popping up around the league for clubs like the New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids and Montreal Impact. In the 12 years since, fans of the Major League Soccer team have seen it all: winning a championship, competing in multiple CONCACAF Champions League tournaments, and also missing the playoffs twice in three years.
Meanwhile, other MLS franchises have come into the fold with stadiums closer to their respective downtown areas, fervent fan bases and arguably superior in-stadium amenities. Orlando City, Minnesota United and LAFC are just some recent examples.
For years, RSL’s stadium, colloquially called The RioT, remained relatively unchanged before the organization started making improvements. It added a large video board above the supporters section in 2015. In 2018, it installed a high end executive club. There have been other additions in between.
And starting Saturday for RSL’s home opener against the New York Red Bulls, fans will see more changes aimed at enhancing their game day experiences, the club’s chief business officer Andy Carroll said.
But it won’t stop there. Not only does the organization plan to make significant upgrades to the stadium in the near future, but Rio Tinto could be the centerpiece of a proposed development project in Sandy City in the next 20 years.
So whether it’s 2020 or 2050, soccer fans of all types could have myriad options for what to do, see or eat on game days.
The near future
After building the $78 million training facility in Herriman and starting a National Women’s Soccer Team in the Utah Royals FC in the last two years, it appears the RSL organization and its owner, Dell Loy Hansen, have their eyes set on investing in the Sandy stadium.
“Dell Loy has invested significant resources into all of our clubs, all of our facilities,” Carroll said this week as he sat in his office at Rio Tinto. “The next real big investment for us is going to be Rio Tinto Stadium.”
New for the 2020 season is a full service bar called The Riot Bar, which is located adjacent to Section 15 on the southwest side of the stadium. It’s the first bar to ever be available for fans.
As of Wednesday, the bar was still undergoing last-minute touch-ups. But the beer taps were installed that day, and Carroll says the Riot Bar will be open for business in time for Saturday’s home opener against the New York Red Bulls.
RSL also made what Carroll called a “major refresh” to its concession offerings, bringing in stands for local vendors such as Float On, Bon Bon Gelato, J Dawgs, Chile Verde, My Pie Pizza, Salt City Wings. In regards to Chile Verde specifically, that became its own stand rather than just a small cart.
“We went to local concepts and we wanted to add more desserts,” Carroll said.
RSL VS. N.Y. RED BULLS
At Rio Tinto Stadium
When • Saturday, noon.
TV • KMYU
In addition, the Maverik stand has been converted into a grab-and-go concept, with already-made food to cut down on wait time. And in furtherance of the effort to mitigate waiting, the stadium is going to a clear bag policy to get fans inside more quickly, Carroll said.
The supporters section on the south end of the stadium also received something of an upgrade. That part of Rio Tinto now has a pulley system to lift tifos — the large banners unfurled in the stands during games. In the past, fans would unveil their tifos by hand. One RSL supporter said fans are “thankful” for the addition of the pulley system.
Yet, those changes seem like small potatoes compared to the organization’s big-picture plans for Rio Tinto. While upgrades like the video board, new concessions and new bar aren’t cheap, they represent steps the organization is taking that lead to something bigger.
“In the next two or three years, we plan on doing a major remodel to the stadium,” Carroll said.
That remodel is still in the early stages, he added. But among the highlights are added seats, a redesign of the concession areas, and more communal areas for fans.
“It'll be a total renovation to the stadium,” Carroll said. He added that when the remodel does happen, it will be with as little disruption as possible to avoid what happened in Portland, where the Timbers played 12 straight road games last season while they waited for the renovation of Providence Park to be completed.
As for the Royals, Carroll said the NWSL team’s fan base is different than its MLS counterpart, which could impact what’s offered at the stadium during those games in the future.
“We haven't quite gotten there yet,” Carroll said. "But we've had those discussions.”
MLS STADIUMS — OLDEST TO NEWEST
Nippert Stadium, FC Cincinnati, 1915
Soldier Field, Chicago Fire, 1924
Providence Park, Portland Timbers, 1926
Lockhart Stadium, Inter Miami, 1959
BC Place, Vancouver Whitecaps, 1983
MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus Crew, 1999
Nissan Stadium, Nashville SC, 1999
CenturyLink Field, Seattle Sounders, 2002
Gillette Stadium, New England Revolution, 2002
Dignity Health Sports Park, L.A. Galaxy, 2003
Toyota Stadium, FC Dallas, 2005
BMO Field, Toronto FC, 2007
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Colorado Rapids, 2007
Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake, 2008
Saputo Stadium, Montreal Impact, 2008
Yankee Stadium, New York City FC, 2009
Red Bull Arena, New York Red Bulls, 2010
Talen Energy Stadium, Philadelphia Union, 2010
Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting KC, 2011
BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston Dynamo, 2012
Avaya Stadium, San Jose Earthquakes, 2015
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United FC, 2017
Orlando City Stadium, Orlando City SC, 2017
Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles FC, 2018
Audi Field, D.C. United, 2018
Allianz Field, Minnesota United, 2019
Source: Soccer Stadium Digest
The long term
Fan experience inside Rio Tinto is one thing. What’s around the stadium is a different animal. But Sandy has taken steps to tackle that aspect as well.
The Sandy city council last June approved the master plan for Stadium Village, a proposed development project that aims to turn that area of the city into “the Wasatch Front’s second downtown” with restaurants, housing and businesses. Within that concept, the development could also provide soccer fans with a pregame and postgame destination.
One scenario of the master plan, “Entertainment Mixed-Use,” addresses that very possibility.
“It features an expanded ‘outside the gates’ retail-heavy fan experience designed to prolong stadium visits and spending, and to serve as the district’s public ‘commons’ on non-game days,” the master plan reads.
Survey respondents who criticized the potential development had concerns mostly about the potential for increased traffic. Others lamented about there being too much development already. But some welcomed a possible change to the city, asking for walkable areas, live music venues and locally owned restaurants and bars.
However, development around Rio Tinto is not imminent.
“It will take several years to realize the master plan,” said Nick Duerkrsen, director of economic development for Sandy City. “It’s not something that will happen in two, three, four for five years. This is probably going to be a 10- to 20-year process and it will come down to the property owners. They ultimately have the say on what happens and when it happens.”
Carroll said RSL and Hansen are aware of the city’s development plan, and that it supports what the city wants to do around Rio Tinto. And while there is some involvement between RSL and Sandy, the proposed development is not the organization’s main focus.
“Our focal point is Rio Tinto Stadium, our fans in the stadium and making sure that we create the best experience that we can for our fans and make sure that we keep up with the fast changing stadium experiences and arena experiences that we see in MLS and throughout the country at sporting venues,” Carroll said.