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Could MLB put an expansion team in Salt Lake City?
That’s the goal of an investment group led by a former owner of the Utah Jazz. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the group is “touting the area’s population growth, strong economy and baseball history” in promoting their goals to MLB.
There are two other groups currently lobbying to add teams to MLB, one in Nashville and another in Portland. The Big League Utah group joins those two organizations hoping to add to MLB’s 30 current franchises.
Las Vegas has also been mentioned as a potential destination. However it’s viewed as significantly more likely that the Oakland A’s move to the desert.
For the Salt Lake City consortium, their target location is the Rocky Mountain Power District. That encompasses a 100-acre mixed use area on the west side of the city. The mixed use investment would be on top of the league’s expansion fee, expected to be at least $2 billion.
Renderings of the potential MLB stadium were released by Big League Utah, showing a mostly scenic backdrop, outside of the apparent power plant.
The Miller Company is one of the key parts of the Salt Lake group, as current owners of the Salt Lake Bees.
Their CEO explained why he believes the Salt Lake Valley is a desirable spot for MLB.
“Salt Lake City is a major league city,” said Steve Starks, CEO of the Miller Company. “We believe that as a top-30 media market in the fastest-growing state in the country with the youngest population, that’s where our attention should be — and that we could accomplish bringing a team to the Wasatch Front.”
When Will MLB Consider Expansion?
Commissioner Rob Manfred has previously expressed his interest in getting MLB to 32 teams, but the timeline remains unclear.
Passan reported that the league wants to finally make progress on the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa/St. Petersburg before expanding.
The A’s and Rays have often seen disastrous attendance figures, even with the nearly unprecedented success in Tampa.
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Settling the long term futures for those organizations would allow MLB to focus their attentions elsewhere.
Utah believes the league’s attention should be focused on Salt Lake.
Governor Spencer Cox told ESPN, “It would be, I think, a validation of everything that we’ve worked so hard to do. We’ve proven ourselves in a sports capacity with Olympics in 2002 and coming back in 2030 or, more likely, 2034. We’ve hosted two NBA All-Star Games. We know we can do this. It would just be meaningful for people who love this sport, who care deeply about it. We’re a baseball state.”
Will Salt Lake Be a Top Choice?
Gov. Cox is biased, but he does have a point that Salt Lake has proved its sporting bonafides.
On top of consistent fan support for the Jazz, the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees generally rank near the top of minor league attendance figures.
That said, the media market, while competitive with other MLB cities, is still on the smaller side.
Salt Lake currently ranks 29th in the U.S., just ahead of San Diego and just behind Baltimore.
That’s also close to expansion possibility Nashville, but trails 22nd ranked Portland.
Population wise, however, Salt Lake City’s metro area trails substantially.
San Diego has roughly 3.3 million people, ranking 17th, while Salt Lake has just 1.3 million, which ranks 46th. The greater Wasatch Front area is substantially larger and growing rapidly, with a strong economy, but there are some numerical hurdles to clear.
MLB may want to increase its foothold in the non-Florida South as well, making Nashville or even Charlotte a more desirable landing spot.
But the fast-growing Mountain region does provide a generally pleasant climate and a potential rival for the Rockies.
It may be a few years away, but this new bid provides an intriguing option for MLB’s future expansion efforts.