SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A noted Utah Jazz superfan, Governor Spencer J. Cox is also in favor of another professional sports franchise coming to the state.
Speaking to reporters during his monthly press conference, Cox was asked if he would support a National Football League team in the Beehive State, to which he essentially replied, ‘Game on.’
“I don’t know if there’s a limit on how hard I would push to get an NFL team here in the state of Utah,” the governor and sports fan said, adding that his office has already been working with the recently-relocated Las Vegas Raiders on building their fanbase in the state.
“If there’s an opportunity for an NFL franchise here in the state of Utah, we would be all over that,” Cox stated. “We are the ‘State of Sport.’”
The prompt to Cox on any potential interest that he would have in wooing the NFL to Utah was undoubtedly tied to reports that the 32-team league is considering a ballooning expansion to 40 squads. Pro Football Focus, one of the highest-regarded football analysis publications, gave weight to such reports in a social media post earlier this week that posed a question to its followers, including Salt Lake City in a group of possible locations to place a team.
While Cox confirmed that the state would reciprocate any interest from the NFL to enter the area, his remarks also underscored the challenges that would be inherent in a multi-billion dollar project.
“We know how good those that sports can be for the economy, and we would be very supportive of an NFL franchise, does that mean we would also provide some incentives to build a stadium? That’s a good question. And ultimately, that’s a decision that would be made by the taxpayers of the state through their elected representatives,” he added.
Cox’s words echo remarks made by Utah Sports Commission President and CEO Jeff Robbins when ABC4.com pursued the issue back in October.
“The stadiums have evolved and the infrastructure and cost to build stadiums have become so expensive that in some way shape or form if you look at most of the stadiums being built, there’s some type of fairly significant public partnership that has to be created,” Robbins explained, citing the construction of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, which ran a bill of nearly $2 billion, $750 million of which came from public funds.
City leaders in Draper have voiced an interest in creating some sort of sports entertainment venue in the land which will be made vacant when the State Prison moves to Tooele in 2022. It is easy to assume the place where Salt Lake County touches the booming Silicon Slopes area could be the best possible place in the state to locate a brand-new NFL stadium, a must for bringing a team to town.
While the talk is exciting, Cox added on Thursday that getting public funding for a football stadium – or a baseball stadium, as he feels a Major League Baseball team is more likely than an NFL club in Utah – isn’t high on his priority list.
“I don’t like giving billionaires money from taxpayers, I think that’s a mistake,” the governor said. “It’s one thing to provide some tax increment funding for a stadium and I won’t go through all that, we’ve done a little bit of that before. But what you see some of these billionaires doing is holding people hostage to write them a check to help pay for a stadium. That’s just it’s terrible economics and it’s bad politics.”
There is a bit of research to back Cox’s statements. ABC4.com’s report over a month ago also cited a review by economic researchers from UC Berkeley that found that publicly financed stadiums have little impact on a community’s standard of living as compared to spending in other areas such as education or housing.
Still, the interest in the state for more top-level sporting events has always been high. Utah loves sports, as evidenced by the support achieved not only by the Jazz, but by Real Salt Lake, the Salt Lake Bees, and the college athletics programs, most notably Utah and BYU. The 2002 Winter Olympics were considered to be a huge success and the process of bringing the world stage back to Utah is already underway.
The state truly does live up to its moniker, the State of Sports.
Cox, who is well-known as a vocal Jazz fan, knows this well.
“I’ll throw this out there we just had a chance to meet with the IOC for the first time, the International Olympic Committee selection committee this past week, we had wonderful discussions, and they recognize Utah, again, from our time hosting the Olympics before as an incredible place where people really do support sport,” Cox said, adding that the NBA All-Star Game in 2023 will also drum up a lot of excitement in the years to come.