Photo: Found Image Press/Corbis via Getty Images

The National Women's Soccer League will become the first U.S. team sport back in action when it kicks off its 25-game "Challenge Cup" tomorrow.

The intrigue: While leagues like the NBA, MLS and WNBA chose coronavirus-riddled Florida to host their "bubble" operations, the NWSL and two other leagues chose Utah, which has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the U.S.

Utah's summer residents: The NWSL and the Premier Lacrosse League will follow similar health-and-safety protocols in Utah this summer. Supercross, a motorcycle racing series, just wrapped up its season using similar guidelines.

  • Supercross: Arrived in Utah on May 31 and held seven events in the state before concluding its season on Sunday.
  • NWSL: Kicks off this weekend and will use Zions Bank Stadium (20 miles outside Salt Lake City) and the surrounding area as its bubble headquarters.
  • PLL: Will host its shortened season at Zions Bank Stadium starting July 25.

The backdrop: "Since the 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Utah, the state has used sports as a branding and marketing tool to enhance its economy and image [and] the strategy has gone into overdrive during the pandemic," writes Forbes' Kurt Badenhausen.

  • Supercross was given a direct line to the governor, the PLL was offered marketing and financial support and the NWSL was pitched using the protocols that had been successfully used for Supercross.

The big picture: The Utah Sports Commission estimates the economic impact of hosting the three leagues — plus the PGA's developmental Korn Ferry Tour, which is in action this week near Salt Lake City — is roughly $40 million. And the media exposure of nearly 100 hours of live sports is worth another $40 million.

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Kendall Baker, author of Sports
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