Owners of professional sports teams sometimes are full of it, absolutely full of it. Full of themselves, full of ego, full of self-interest, full of taking advantage of fans, and in some cases taxpayers, full of deceit, full of money-grubbing greed. They occasionally say things publicly that are the exact opposite of what they’re actually thinking privately.
Ryan Smith, who owns large chunks of the Utah Jazz and Real Salt Lake, and, by now for all we know, half of Utah, was none of that, said nothing like that, when he held a remote news conference with reporters earlier this week, informing them that an additional pro team was being established — re-established — here in Utah. The Royals, he said, were returning to the state to compete in the top women’s soccer league in the United States: NWSL
The Royals. You remember them. They were here before and then they left. They created excitement among hardcore fans and then they were gone. Audi-Five-Thou.
Well. They’re re-emerging now, or, more accurately a year from now, ready to compete, at least under the most optimistic of projections, for NWSL championships. You can read about the mechanics of that early process in other spaces of The Tribune. Andy Larsen and Alex Vejar are all over that.
But something Smith said during the presser rang 100-percent true, and gloriously so.
Smith said: “This is a good thing for the community. … It’s truly about the community. Financially, it’s not a home run. It’s showing, you can do anything in the state of Utah.”
And anything, now and into the future, for Smith doesn’t include reeling in a personal boatload of cash. He doesn’t anticipate that. If it happens, fine. If it doesn’t, NBD.
In its first iteration, Royals FC ranked among NWSL’s top-drawing teams, bringing in some 10,000 spectators a game. It could do that and more in the seasons ahead. Fans here loved it and they can love it once more.
Smith added the most compelling part. In so many words, he said, “every little girl” can look at this endeavor and dream of being a part of it.
If that doesn’t punch you right in the feel-goods, as a sports fan, as a parent, as a person, then something’s wrong.
Even if watching soccer for you personally conjures and holds all the thrills and competitive drama of a pie-eating contest, you can see the value in it. And if you love the beautiful game, this provides a whole lot more of that.
There was nothing patronizing or preachy, nothing condescending intended in Smith’s comments. As the father of five adult daughters, all of whom played high-level sports, ranging from soccer to volleyball to tennis and a few other sports in-between, I can vouch that having examples of great female athletes for them to watch and study and copy and root for was not, is not, just beneficial in what they ended up doing, but in what they believed they could have the opportunity to do.
Beyond that, great athletes, great teams, were for them, and are for all of us, dreamers or not dreamers, a helluva lot of fun to watch.
“I’m proud to be a part of this,” Smith said, muttering under his breath like Popeye squeezing a can of spinach, “We have a lot going on. … This is cool for the state.”
And so, it is.
One more professional option — which is to say, the top option for women’s soccer — for sports fans around here to enjoy. And that, like Smith said, is cool.
Franchises in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York/New Jersey, Houston, Seattle, Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, San Diego, Louisville, Portland, North Carolina will now be rejoined by Salt Lake City, and all of Utah.
At the same news conference, Royals executive Michelle Hyncik said, “Fans will be an integral part of the team. … That’s our top priority.”
Alongside winning, which, no condescension here, ranks No. 1 and always will for any team that prioritizes its community, its fans.