The history and culture of sports in Utah have been wide and varied over the years, encompassing numerous professional sports teams and franchises. While the state boasts a plethora of professional teams participating in minor leagues, there are currently just two major league franchises competing at the highest level of their sports.
But as the demand for sports and fandom continues to grow throughout the state of Utah, another sporting franchise will be returning to action soon, much to the delight of those who previously followed the team. Let’s take a look at these three organizations, along with their projections for the future.
Undoubtedly the biggest and most famous of the sporting franchises in the state, Utah Jazz has been located in Salt Lake City since 1979, after original franchise relocated from New Orleans. Ever since then, the team has always been competitive in the NBA, winning 11 divisional titles, although the most recent conference titles came in 1997 and 1998.
On both occasions, the Jazz eventually lost the NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls, unable to contain the brilliance of Michael Jordan and beaten 4-2 in each series. In recent years, the franchise has largely struggled to match the achievements of the late 1990s, although the team has reached the NBA Playoffs in 6 of the last 7 seasons, competing in the Conference Semifinals 3 times.
The 2022-23 season was largely disappointing for the franchise, finishing 12th in the Western Conference and 4th in the Northwest Division, failing to make the Playoffs. Based upon odds checked at the end of June and looking ahead to the 2023-24 season, moneyline markets at Betway are projecting another year of struggles for Utah Jazz, valued at +15000 outsiders to win the Western Conference, and the same price to win the NBA Championship.
Clearly, the Jazz franchise is going through a challenging period at the moment, seeking to rebuild the team and become genuine challenger once again. But hopefully, the team will get back on track before too long, seeking to compete with the main contenders and make regular appearances in the NBA Playoffs, maybe even reaching the Finals in the next few years.
Major League Soccer
Also known by the RSL acronym or their Claret and Cobalt nickname, Real Salt Lake officially joined Major League Soccer in 2004, becoming the 12th franchise to feature in the competition during their debut 2005 season. Typically used to signify clubs with royal patronage in Spain, such as Real Madrid or Real Sociedad, the American franchise used “Real” branding to follow the trend for European naming conventions in the MLS.
We often focus on the net worth of individual celebrities here, just to highlight the phenomenal growth of soccer in the United States, estimates published early in 2023 valued the Real Salt Lake franchise at roughly $440 million. This marks consistent and steady growth for the club co-owned by David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, combined with record average attendances at America First Field through the 2022 season in MLS.
The only major title won by the franchise came in 2009, when RSL won the MLS Cup, beating LA Galaxy 5-4 on penalties after the teams were tied at 1-1 after 90 minutes and extra time. In recent years, the team peaked at 3rd position in the Western Conference standings, and consistently reached the MLS Playoffs, making the Semifinals of the MLS Cup in 2021. After achieving 14th overall position in 2022, the team is now looking to improve.
Midway through the 2023 MLS Regular Season campaign, the Claret and Cobalt outfit are going steady, comfortably in the Playoff zone and within touching distance of the Western Conference leaders. Nevertheless, tipsters are only giving the team a slim chance of genuinely challenging for the MLS Cup title this year, although they could yet be the surprise package. Still, this club has rich values and traditions, plus a supportive fanbase whatever the results.
National Women’s Soccer League
First established in 2017 as an expansion club, Utah Royals competed in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) from 2018 to 2020, although difficult business circumstances eventually led to the team withdrawing from the competition. When they ceased activities, all the player-related assets were transferred to Kansas City Current, another new NWSL franchise team. Women’s football at the highest level is now being resurrected.
Real Salt Lake co-owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith bought out Utah Soccer LLC, exercising an option to restore Utah Royals to the NWSL in March 2023, which means the team will return to action during the 2024 season. Former US Women’s National Team star Amy Rodriguez has already been appointed as head coach, therefore continuing her association with the game in the state, having scored 15 goals in 47 appearances for the Royals from 2018 to 2020.
The rebirth of Utah Royals is inevitably formed around an affiliate partnership with Real Salt Lake, strengthening the ties between women’s and men’s soccer, making them just one of three teams tied to MLS franchises. This bodes well for the future of the team, as Rodriguez and the club work on recruiting the best selection of players they can, eager to be competitive once the 2024 NWSL campaign gets underway.
While at this stage it’s far too early to predict how the team will perform, there will undoubtedly be high expectations for Utah Royals in the years to come. The women’s game has become hugely popular throughout the United States, buoyed by the consistent international success of the USWNT, who are looking to achieve their third successive FIFA Women’s World Cup triumph in July this year.
MLB franchise on the way?
Right now, there are plans in motion to bring more top-level sports franchises to Utah, including a big pitch by the Larry H. Miller Company, which previously owned the Utah Jazz NBA franchise. Having undertaken various negotiations with Major League Baseball, they appear confident that Salt Lake City is a legitimate and viable candidate to host an expansion team.
Before his passing, Larry Miller was always keen on the idea, now his company is keen to ensure his legacy extends to the MLB, given the competition is aiming towards an expansion to 32 teams in the next couple of years. They have formed a group called Big League Utah, with serious potential investors keen to drive the project forward. This includes the location for a new 100-acre ballpark site, indicating that Salt Lake may have top baseball before too long.