NFL In Utah?

By Scott Beckstead

The thought of an NFL team in Utah strikes excitement in the hearts and souls of many Utahns. While the notion of Salt Lake City hosting a NFL team may seem like a long shot to many, let’s consider other long shots throughout history. Donerail went on to win the Kentucky Derby in 1913 at 91:1 odds. The Orlando Magic overcame seemingly insurmountable odds when they acquired the first pick in the 1993 NBA Lottery draft despite only having a 1.52% chance. And in one of the biggest upsets in sports history, the Villanova Wildcats defeated the Patrick Ewing lead Georgetown Hoyas in the 1985 NCAA basketball championship game. Surely Utah acquiring an NFL franchise would be considered an extraordinary long shot.

To look at this objectively and ascertain if Utah can sustain a viable NFL franchise, we must look at a few criteria:

Will attendance at home games on Sunday be an issue?

Within the city limits of Salt Lake City, non-mormons actually make up the majority of the population. While it’s true that Mormons make up roughly two-thirds of the state’s population, approximately one-third is actually active, leaving a fan base of roughly 1.5 million. Filling up a 70,000 capacity stadium should be no problem.  It’s also likely that home games will draw in fans from neighboring states such as Nevada and Idaho. Let’s also keep in mind that the Utah Jazz have always sold out Sunday play-off games.

Is Salt Lake City simply too small of a market to support another professional sports team?

Sure SLC would be a small market NFL franchise, but with a metro population of just over 1.1 million, Buffalo is a small market, as are cities such as Nashville, Charlotte, New Orleans and Green Bay. I have never bought into the belief that SLC was too small to support an NFL franchise. Let’s also keep in mind that there aren’t any other competing NFL franchises within 535 miles (Denver Broncos) of SLC. Suddenly your market share grows with no competing NFL franchises near by.

Who would buy the franchise?

Suffice it to say that buying an NFL franchise is a multi-million (and in some cases billion) dollar investment. Private individuals, who follow a set of stringent rules to protect the league from corporate ownership, own the majority of teams.  With that in mind, the ownership group would most likely consist of a group with Utah ties. One possible scenario would see the Huntsmans leading an ownership group, given their deep financial resources.  Another ownership group could be comprised of Utah based celebrities and former athletes. The question of ownership is an interesting one, and one that would draw a lot of speculation.

Realistically, Utah faces many hurdles when it comes to hosting an NFL franchise.

Finding a city allowing a stadium to be built would be a potential challenge, as would be convincing people to spend their hard earned tax dollars on that stadium. The NFL would love to see their next franchise in Los Angeles, not Utah, given LA’s huge market. Utah unfortunately is most likely pretty low on the NFL’s pecking order of would-be NFL franchises. While the odds are simply not in Utah’s favor, long shots from time to time emerge victorious. Just ask the 1985 Villanova Wildcats.

Do you think the NFL could come to Utah?  Let us know what you think about this topic.

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  • Probability wise, I think the NFL coming to Utah is near impossible. I can’t call it anywhere near probable.

    As a Jazz season ticket holder, we can never sell our tickets to Sunday games, so our seats for Sunday playoff games stay empty. I don’t think the NFL could survive because of that.

  • I don’t want it coming to Utah if it means expansion. There are already too many crap teams out there. It would be fun to have a team to cheer for, but I would never go to games.

    I would LOVE to see a baseball team come to Utah. I believe it was one of Larry Miller’s goals and it would make my life complete if that ever happened.

    As for the statistical breakdown of the Mormon population, you should have gone one step further. What percentage of active Mormons would attend games. I believe many would, as lots I know do.

  • Money talks. utahns are cheap and we all know it. NFL games aren’t cheap. Put 2 and 2 together, SLC won’t see a team for a while.

  • I think the major issue would be attendance. NFL games get blackout all the time because of lack of attendance. The ESA holds close 20,000 people on a given night. A NFL Stadium would be 70,000+. Sunday games are rarely full here in the state there is no way that a more expensive ticket would allow for the 50,000+ people needed to sellout and not be blacked out. As much as I love the NFL, Salt Lake City has to be at the bottom of the NFL’s wishlist (most likely not even on it).

  • I appreciate all the replies to this subject. While it certainly sparks a lot of debate, I don’t think it’s likely either. It could happen down the road, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • I think it would work much better than people think. I know a lot of people who would buy tickets to these games. The big thing is that basketball has a very different following than the NFL.