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How the Coyotes are being received in Utah

The Arizona Coyotes have officially moved north to Salt Lake City, leaving the Valley without an NHL team — at least for now.

Utah is home to a team in one of the so-called big four sports, the NBA’s Utah Jazz. It also has a Major League Soccer team.

With pro hockey coming to the city next season, The Show wanted to check in with how Salt Lake City is reacting to the team formerly known as the Coyotes coming to town.

Andy Larsen, a sports writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, joined The Show to talk about how are folks in his city feeling about getting this hockey team.

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: How are folks in your city feeling about getting this hockey team?

ANDY LARSEN: I think it's fair to say that they're ecstatic. There was a terrific live event on Wednesday where they kind of invited the whole community to the Delta Center to introduce themselves to the team, meet the team. And just the, the level of feedback, you know, it, it sold out and I was really impressed with how the, the community responded to the announcement that the Coyotes are moving here and then just kind of the level of support they've shown the team already you know, obviously months before a game begins.

BRODIE: To what do you attribute that?

LARSEN: You know, I think there's kind of been a desperation and, and kind of a sense of being ready for a, a second major professional sports team in, in Salt Lake City and in Utah, you know, overall. I, you know, for a long time, all that there has been here is, is the Utah Jazz and I, I suppose the major league soccer is real Salt Lake.  But there's kind of this sense that, hey, you know, Utah is growing the young population, it's a, it's a population I think is ready to kind of embrace a, a different status in American cities if you will. And you know, some of that is, is sports and, and culture, right? And I think, by kind of adding in the Coyotes, there is kind of a sense of civic pride a little bit. 

BRODIE: I'm curious how fans in Salt Lake City, how well they understand hockey. Like, I know when the Coyotes came here, there was a sense that, you know, people in Arizona maybe didn't understand the nuances of hockey. Do you get the sense that, that folks in Salt Lake City really understand the game and how it's played.

LARSEN: They do not. And, you know, there's, there's been a little bit of that with, you know, obviously Salt Lake was host to the Winter Olympics and, and it's, you know, it's a winter town, but it's not a very hockey oriented town. You know, there are about 5000 youth hockey players in, in Utah, which is not very many. And, you know, I've, I've seen a lot of online and offline conversation of, oh, no, now we have to learn hockey and, and what, you know, what the rules are and who these players are and, and how this all works. 

BRODIE: What are folks saying about the circumstances under which the team coming to Salt Lake City? I mean, I know the, the new owner Ryan Smith has been quoted in the past as saying that in a perfect world, he would have preferred an expansion team. But you know, this is the way it happened. Are fans sort of talking about the the circumstances under which the Coyotes are coming there.

LARSEN: You know, not a lot of conversation. You know, it's something because I went to Arizona for the last game. I feel a real, you know, bittersweetness or sense of mixed feelings about the fact that the Coyotes are moving and leaving elsewhere in order to, to join Utah, right? Like there is a real fan base that's being hurt here. I think that's true for some pretty, you know, kind of aware fans, some NHL aware fans here in Utah, but for the most part, I, I think there's just kind of more excitement rather than sadness about, you know, losing that, that another market, lost their team that, that this is kind of just the way it happened. You know, it obviously happened with the Utah Jazz back in 1979 when they moved from New Orleans. And obviously it happened with the Coyotes originally with, with Winnipeg, right? And so, it is, it's kind of a circle of life moment a little bit, but I, I haven't heard too much of that worry from, from SLC and Utah fans so far.

BRODIE: Yeah. So let me ask you about the arena situation because there had been some talk of renovations to the Delta Center, which is where the Utah Jazz currently play basketball. There had been some talk about maybe a new arena. What is the current plan as far as where either the Jazz and, or Coyotes or whatever they're called in Utah will be, will be playing?

LARSEN: Yeah, the current plan is that, and this is kind of a surprise they announced when last week, when they moved the team officially is that they want to renovate the Delta Center, which is a building that was primarily built for basketball in some of the same ways that, you know, the Footprint Center was in Phoenix, where it's a pretty small arena, that you have to make significant changes to in order for it to work for hockey and, and for next season, at the very least, there are going to be significant obstructed view seats and, and just not a very big capacity, you know, at about 12 to 14,000 for next year. You know, we'll see what kind of goes into that renovation. We, we've talked to a number of city leaders, there still is a city tax vote that has to happen in order to kind of fund that renovation to the tune of about $900 million to a billion dollars in sales tax revenue. it does seem like that will pass. But, you know, there's not a complete shortage of arena drama here in Salt Lake City either it, it does look like all the political line, you know, parts of the picture are in play here as well though to, to make this work.

BRODIE: Yeah, I think the NHL is probably really excited to not have too much arena drama with the team given where they've been for the last several years here in the Phoenix area. 

LARSEN: That's exactly what Gary Bettman said in his press conference. It's, it's definitely the case and, you know, I, I think, I, I do not think the Utah will have that same level of arena drama. I do think that this tax increase will pass. And, and frankly, there's a Plan B if it doesn't, where they would move the team instead of in Salt Lake City to the suburbs where, you know, honestly, it would probably do just as well from an attendance point of view. 

BRODIE: So let's talk a little bit about Ryan Smith, the owner of the Utah Jazz, the new owner of the hockey team in Utah. What kind of owner is he, what should players and fans and staff expect from him?

LARSEN: Yeah, I mean, ii I think the close comparison is Mark Cuban, the owner of Dallas Mavericks, right, like, made his money in a tech venture and then kind of got out and is making sports his number one business. He is, you know, young, he is extremely, he's a salesman, first and foremost, I mean, he is extremely eager to kind of get out in the community and make connections and be friends with players and staff and all that. Like he wants to be part of probably draft conversations. He certainly has been with the Jazz, you know, he, he wants to be highly involved hands on in, in his team's ownership. So that seems to be departure, a significant departure from what Alex Meruelo was with the Coyotes.  And it'll be kind of interesting to see how GM Bill Armstrong and coach Bear T kind of deal with that, right? Like II, I think it is gonna be a new style of leadership that they're, they're not used to. It has been mostly good with the Utah Jazz, you know, who you know, are going through a rebuild, but there is definite passion and enthusiasm there that is fairly rare in professional sports owners.

BRODIE: All right. So, before I let you go, I've got to ask you about what this team is going to be called. Do, do you have a sense? Has anybody said it's going to be the Utah Blanks at this point?

LARSEN: They are doing an extremely, surprising and complex thing to name this team where they're apparently using a 18 bracket, of kind of the best team names that they've gotten from the community. And among themselves, they have trademarked all eight of them at this point and they say in the weeks to come, they will release that bracket and how people will vote on it. So, this is going to be a whole process and then I, I know I'm really kind of curious to see how, you know, the branding picture of it comes together as well. You know, what colors they choose what, you know, logo, the mascot, all that different kind of stuff. But, yeah, there's, we do not know at this point other than fans are gonna be heavily involved in the, in the decision.

BRODIE: All right. That is Andy Larsen, sportswriter with the Salt Lake Tribune. Andy, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

LARSEN: Thanks again for having me.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.