Apr 13, 2023 - News

Salt Lake City joins the race for an MLB expansion team

An illustration of a proposed baseball stadium with refinery towers and mountains in the background.

Rendering of a stadium proposed for North Temple Street in Salt Lake City. Image: Courtesy of Big League Utah

Salt Lake City wants to become the next home to a Major League Baseball team, with a stadium proposed on North Temple.

Driving the news: A consortium led by Gail Miller and the Larry H. Miller Company — owners of the Salt Lake Bees and former owners of the Utah Jazz — launched the Big League Utah campaign Wednesday to attract an MLB expansion team.

  • The stadium and other amenities would be built on 100 mostly empty acres owned by Rocky Mountain Power southwest of the Utah State Fairpark.

State of play: Multiple cities have recently made overtures to the MLB, long expected to expand from 30 to 32 teams, while the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics may relocate.

  • With Las Vegas considered the As' likeliest new home, Portland is probably Salt Lake's main competition for an expansion team in the West.
  • Other contenders include Nashville, Montreal and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Catch up quick: The Miller Company has been in talks with MLB leadership for about a year, CEO Steve Starks said at the campaign launch.

  • "Based on those conversations … we have reason to believe that we are a very viable candidate city," Starks said.

Threat level: SLC's bid brings formidable advantages, according to public officials and business leaders who spoke Wednesday.

  • Utah's population has grown rapidly in recent years, and it is the youngest state.
  • SLC has the highest median income of possible expansion cities, said Gov. Spencer Cox, which is “important to the MLB."
  • The location is already served by light rail and is a 15-minute drive from the airport, while Utah is a central "crossroads" between existing MLB cities, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall told Axios.

The other side: Portland has been pitching an MLB franchise since 2018, with investor commitments of at least $1.3 billion and $150 million in state funds set aside for expansion fees, The Athletic reported in January.

  • Starks did not disclose cost estimates for the Utah proposal or how much the Miller Company and other partners plan to invest.

Of note: Big League Utah unveiled the proposal a day after the University of Utah announced plans for a $35 million baseball stadium to replace the team's home field at Smith's Ballpark, which the Bees are vacating next year.

  • The Miller Company is building a new stadium for the Bees in South Jordan. That shouldn't hurt SLC's bid, Starks said, since five other MLB markets have Triple-A teams.
  • An MLB stadium would not preclude a women's sports facility at the Smith's Ballpark site, which the city plans to redevelop, Mendenhall said.

What we're watching: It's unclear what, if any, public funding would go to an MLB team.

  • Mendenhall said she's had "zero conversations" with the project organizers about stadium funding.
  • Cox told the Salt Lake Tribune that tax increment financing is on the table, along with potential infrastructure upgrades that benefit the public. But he opposed a direct stadium subsidy, which most economists agree is a waste of tax dollars.

Our thought bubble, via Axios sports business reporter Kendall Baker: At first glance, Salt Lake City seems like a long shot given it would have one of the smallest metro populations in MLB.

  • But the media market size is actually larger than four current MLB hubs (Cincinnati, Kansas City, Milwaukee, San Diego) and roughly on par with three others (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, St. Louis).
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