Bringing an NFL team to Utah: Why and why not?

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City does not seem to be on the NFL’s radar.

Val Hale, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and former Athletic Director at Brigham Young University, says as much.

“I don't think it's really on the radar," he said. "If it is, it's over in the corner. It's a small blip."

Why not?

The NFL is facing it’s most transient offseason in years. The Rams are leaving St. Louis to return to Los Angeles. The Chargers committed to another year in San Diego, though they have first option to join the Rams at a new LA stadium. And the Raiders, if spurned in that LA deal, have already been talking with Las Vegas city officials and with multi-billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson reportedly wants to finance a new stadium to be shared by an NFL franchise and the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

There are facts that should make Salt Lake City a clear favorite for an NFL franchise.

Pro for an NFL team in SLC: Size

Salt Lake City is the 24th biggest population center in the United States, when measured as a combined statistical area, or CSA. That’s the way the federal government categorizes metro areas to get a more realistic view of areas like Utah’s Wasatch Front.

With 2.4 million residents, Salt Lake’s CSA is bigger than Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Nashville, Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Green Bay.

Pro for an NFL team in SLC: Proximity to other teams

There are bigger cities without an NFL team, like Portland, Oregon; Orlando, St. Louis (after the Rams leave for LA), and Sacramento. However, all but St. Louis are a one to two hour drive to the nearest team. St. Louis is a 248 mile drive from Kansas City.

Conversely, Salt Lake City is 521 miles from Denver, putting it at the center of the largest regional hole in the NFL.

Still, there are also some facts that make Salt Lake City unlikely as an NFL prospect. As the current jockeying for markets continues in the offseason, Salt Lake will likely be on the outside of a series of moves that bring teams to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and possibly in the next five to ten years: London.

Con for an NFL team in SLC: The Sunday thing

The first argument sounds superficial but may get at what seems to be the deep-rooted disinterest that seems to be the NFL’s attitude toward Salt Lake: It’s a Sunday thing.

Utah is 58 percent Mormon, and the Pew Foundation says that percentage has actually been growing in recent years. The LDS Church places a high value on observing the Sabbath, in part by not frequenting businesses, like a football stadium.

However, Hale still thinks Utah would likely prove capable of filling an NFL stadium.

“Yeah, I think Utah does really well. We have a lot of non-Mormons now,” Hale said.

Con for an NFL team in SLC: No Corporate Headquarters

Jeff Robbins, CEO of the Utah Sports Commission, said, “A lot of the major sports franchises, you'll see headquarters of major businesses be title sponsors.”

Utah has a thriving, diverse economy that serves it well when weathering depressions and adjusting to new economic realities. But Utah does not have headquarters of any of the giant kinds of businesses that sponsor football stadiums.

That’s what sets Utah apart from some of the smaller metro areas that already have teams. Cincinnati has Eli Lilly. Indianapolis has Procter and Gamble, and even tiny Green Bay has Ameriprise Financial.

The publicly traded company in Utah with the largest market cap (measure of value using number of stocks multiplied by stock price) is called Extra Space Storage. It’s worth $11.2 billion, which is nothing to sneeze at unless you’re Procter and Gamble, with a $217 billion market cap.

Con for an NFL team in SLC: No owner

In the rarefied air of big-time Forbes certified wealth, Utah is a small player.

The richest man in Utah is Jon Huntsman Senior, founder of Huntsman Chemical, which is Utah’s second largest publicly traded company with a market cap of about $5.5 billion.

Forbes estimates Huntsman’s worth at $1 billion. He’d be worth more, but he’s chosen cancer research over saving up for an NFL team of his own (truly there’s no indication he is, or ever has been, interested in the NFL, but it’s the lot of a billionaire to have others think about what you could do with all that money).

Huntsman’s bank account is a fortune beyond fortunes for most of us, but the billionaire courting the Raiders to Vegas, Sheldon Adelson, has an estimated net worth of $29 billion.

A new NFL stadium would likely cost $2 billion to build. That was the estimated cost of Levi’s Stadium, home to the 49ers and site of Super Bowl 50.

So Utah is not on the precipice of NFL glory, though the Wasatch Front is a large-scale metro area big enough to support one.

While Utah waits, Jeff Robbins has a suggestion.

“Long term, we've got a prison site that's going to have 600 acres or so,” Robbins said.

Robbins said he would love some visionary politicians to set aside some of the land where the state prison sits, so that when an NFL owner arrives, he or she has a place to call home.


    • C

      Yes, don’t use your tax money to bring billions into the Utah economy instead use it for useful stuff like global warming efforts that cost tax payers millions with no benefit.

      • bob

        Global warming is a myth.

        The government should no more be in the entertainment business than it should be trying to control the weather.

        I’m a strict believer that government should butt out of private industry. Providing FOOTBALL is not a government mandate. If you think it is, there are plenty of socialist countries you can choose from , Comrade.

  • Daniel

    F*** I’ll jump at the chance to be the owner of the SLC Dragons. I got a name and everything picked put a dragon head on the helmet a d20 in the mouth of it…

  • FinnyWiggen

    Football will likely remain popular for years, but it is not likely to grow in popularity.

    Buying a team right now would be as risky as buying gold. Or any other commodity at the top of its market valuation, and due for a crash. With worries about concussions, and the growth of soccer and hockey, I would be very weary of touching the NFL.

    Like I say,I am sure you have years of profitability ahead, but you are not likely to get your initial investment back out.

  • Diesel Man

    Well, actually Rio Tinto copper, which is the driving force for Salt lakes economy (and pollution) has more than enough money, averaging billions a year in copper, gold, and other metals. So, a football team and headquarters for a sports team are actually more possible here than other cities.

    • Mr. Charles

      Except for the fact that the taxpayers will end up footing most of the bill with very little in return.

    • FinnyWiggen

      Rio tinto is not headquarters in Utah. Nor are they the driving force of our economy.

      They are a factor in our economy, no doubt. But so is ATK, Hill Air Force Base, Hexcel, Nu Skin, Vivant, and others.

      Rio Tinto is important to the economy, in terms of the jobs they create. But the profit gets sent to their headquarters in London.

    • bob

      And exactly why does a British company owe Utahns an American football team?

      If you want a stadium, start raising funds yourself. Stop insisting that other people be forced to pay for it.

    • Stewart McDonald

      Rio Tinto Kennecott employes many people and pays a hefty amount in taxes. How much profit they earn and what they chose to do with it is none of your business. Utah doesn’t want an NFL team and there isn’t going to be one here.

  • Anonymous

    Why does every discussion in Utah media have to involve Mormons? The rest of us live here too. (Growing numbers of us not shrinking) It really is a non factor. A small percentage of your “claimed” 58% Mormon base might actually avoid business on Sunday. The rest fill movie theaters, restaraunts, amusement parks etc. If Mormons can’t watch football on Sunday why do they encourage their kids to be football players who grow up to play on Sundays? The big issue is people in this state are cheap. They would never support a team financially.

    • FinnyWiggen

      Because it is a factor… Duh!! I mean seriously! Stop choosing to fain offense.

      Another factor is the percentage of our population that is Latino, and far more interested in fútbol than football.

    • Jake

      If those that got baptized as a child and no longer practice or want to be part of the Mormon church would send a letter to the church and asked to have their name taken off the members list, it would lower their numbers. Their is a lot of people that get counted in the number of members That want nothing to do with the church and don’t realize the church is still using their name to make it look like their numbers are high than they are. Please excuse miss spelling and other mistake. Doing from phone and not a lot of screen space to look at and reread.

      • bob

        I would be among those. I’m a atheist. For me to make any effort to “remove myself from the records”, even to the point of picking up a pen to sing my name, I’d be admitting that it matters.

        Since I don’t believe that it matters, I don’t do it. That’s because I’m an atheist with a small “a”. You are an Atheist with a capital “A”. Evangelical Atheism is a RELIGION.

        Real atheists just sleep in on Sunday and don’t concern themselves with what other people choose to believe. Try it. It’s quite freeing to be a REAL atheist.

      • Stewart McDonald

        Your problems with your same sex attraction have nothing to do with bringing a NFL football team to Utah Jake. .

    • bob

      Mormons watch football on TV. I’ve never known one to eschew watching NFL football. But going to games is another matter. A lot of Mormons would, but a significant percentage would not. Mormons are nearly half the population along the Wasatch Front.

      That is a demographic fact that cannot be ignored. With our population an NFL franchise would be a very iffy proposal at best, but the Mormon angle completely wrecks any possibility of success.

      The Jazz make a go of it because only 1 home game in 7 is played on Sunday.

      • S2 McH

        You don’t know a Mormon who doesn’t tune in on Sundays? I grew up a football nut, playing 9 seasons of full contact organized football, able to name full rosters of most NFL teams, and constantly carrying and even sleeping with my NFL football tucked close by. Following a mission abroad, and getting married, I haven’t made plans, set aside time for, or sat down specifically to watch an NFL game since Fall 1982. I haven’t watched a Super Bowl since 1980. I haven’t spend $0.05 on NFL “gear” in over a decade. My kids don’t know a Packer from a Jaguar, or which cities with which they might be associated. The same goes for a Celtic, a Bruin, a Blue Jay, or Daryl Waltrip. They DO know all about Cougars and Ewets!

        I’m not a Utahn, though I visit frequently, but I can’t see financial backing supporting bringing and maintaining a franchise, nor reason for at least half the population to favor further potential distractions on the Sabbath or expenditures from household budgets with typically more limited discretionary spending. There is the paranoia factor within LDS culture with constant need to feel accepted, fitting in, being cool, and identifying Mormons in fame-engendering walks of life, but I don’t see that as turning into $$$ to maintain support via attendance, licensed product sales, and corporate buy-in.

  • Devon

    Nobody is gunna pay to fly to Utah to see there teams , with the church and there laws pushing there agenda , besides the fact Utah is 20yrs behind the rest of the country

    • Stewart McDonald

      If you want people to respect your opinion Devon you need to exhibit some intelligence. There is a difference between “there” and “their”. Get your boyfriend to help you out with your spelling.

  • CKS1701

    An NFL franchise is a regional team. A team in Salt Lake would draw from the entire state plus other states as well. Even with a small percentage of LDS people staying home (mostly the ultra-faithful), there would still be a LOT of fans of many religions who would support the team. There are multiple places for a stadium to go (not just the old prison site) and the economical draw would be gigantic. If Salt Lake City had a chance to get an NFL team, they should take every reasonable step needed to seal the deal.

    • Stewart McDonald

      Utahns aren’t interesting in paying more taxes to support entertainment when we have an ecomomic collapse staring us in the face. Forget it CKS1701. It just isn’t going to happen.


      The typical non-ultra-faithful Mormon doesn’t attend sporting events on Sunday. The 10 Commandments were given in the pre-Christian era and apply to all God fearing people. #4 says: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”.

      The NFL isn’t coming to Utah in your lifetime.

  • Rick

    Face it: SLC can’t reliably fill the seats at an NBA game. Why is it thought that we’d be able to fill an NFL stadium any more reliably? Tickets are expensive, Utahns are cheap (…ask your waiter next time you eat at a place that actually has one) and beer is ALWAYS a problem here.

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