As sports teams and leagues around the world look for innovative ways to get athletes and events back into action, the state of Utah is proving to be a valuable partner. Since late May, over 100 hours of national television and exposure from pro sports events have come to Utah — with more to come.
On June 27, CBS Sports carried live action from Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman as the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) kicked off its Utah Challenge Cup. The month-long series has pitted the league’s best teams against each other in a 23-game tournament. Teams from across the country traveled to Utah for the tournament, sequestering in a controlled environment for COVID-19 safety. Utah Royals FC advanced into the quarterfinals before losing to the Houston Dash.
That same weekend, on June 28, Golf Channel’s live national television audience was bolstered as the Utah Championship golf tournament at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington went into extra holes. It was the first Korn Ferry Tour event to be broadcast since the golf tour’s return in early June. Approximately 450 people were involved in the event, including a field of 156 PGA Tour golfers who played in the four-day tournament, conducted under the PGA Tour’s COVID-19 protocol.
In late May, Monster Energy AMA Supercross brought its national tour to the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium to wrap up a seven-event series. The tour was carried live on NBC and NBCSN, providing a field of over 500 riders with the ability to return to action in a carefully managed environment engineered by the tour owner Feld Entertainment, Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Utah Sports Commission.
“Supercross brought energy and excitement back to Rice-Eccles Stadium,” said Ruth V. Watkins, president of the University of Utah. “Its return to sport followed strict protocols, including COVID-19 testing upon arrival in Salt Lake City and daily symptom screenings prior to entering the stadium. Our highest priority was to ensure a safe and responsible environment for the riders and event staff and we accomplished that through a collaborative partnership between the UofU, Feld Entertainment and the Utah Sports Commission and with support from the Governor’s Office and Utah Department of Health.”
The Premier Lacrosse League began its 20-game Championship Series Powered by Ticketmaster in Salt Lake City on July 25. The series, which runs through Aug. 9, will be carried live across NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.
“The sports world is anxious to return to sport and to follow their favorite events and athletes,” said Utah Sports Commission president and CEO Jeff Robbins. “While it’s not time yet for fans to come to stadiums as usual, Utah has been able to provide a platform for athletes to compete and events to be held safely and responsibly, and for broadcasters to carry coverage nationally for fans eager for sport.”
The events are also bringing economic impact to Utah in a period when fan, tourist and business travel has been significantly curtailed. As an example, the Monster Energy Supercross series alone brought 900 athletes, teams, broadcasters and event organizers to Utah. Robbins estimates the economic impact of the summer events to be about $35 million in local travel and event-related expenditures plus contract and service fees to Utah businesses.
The state’s success in the national return to sport was recently highlighted in a business story in Forbes magazine and other media outlets.
“The collaborative spirit we have in Utah with our elected officials and public health leaders has helped us to welcome leagues like the National Women’s Soccer League and Premier Lacrosse League to our state,” said Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hanson. “It is through public-private partnerships that Utah is able to help national teams return to sport and bring a best-in-class healthcare system to create a controlled environment so we know that athletes can be safe, which is a critical element at this time.”