Smith Entertainment Group (SEG), the parent company of several top-tier Utah-based sports teams, has formally requested the National Hockey League (NHL) to commence an expansion process to bring a franchise to Salt Lake City.
Headed by Ryan Smith and his partner Ashley, SEG is the parent company of Utah Jazz (NBA), Real Salt Lake (MLS), and Utah Royal (NWSL) – which will make its league return later this year – as well as several other Utah-based sports and entertainment venues.
In a statement, SEG said it had the capability to establish an NHL franchise in Utah immediately, using Delta Center, home of Utah Jazz, as an interim home arena for the team while a new state-of-the-art hockey arena is being built.
The venue has hosted five NHL exhibition games since 2018 as part of the LA Kings “Frozen Fury” preseason.
Smith said SEG is “100% focused on making this happen as soon as possible” after holding discussions with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman since early 2022.
He added: “We are passionate about sports and entertainment in the state and are committed to providing premium sports and entertainment experiences for the people of Utah and visitors from around the world.
“We are ready to welcome the NHL and are confident that the time and attention being spent by all parties will bring one of the most exciting and dynamic leagues in the world to our community on a permanent basis.”
Responding to the request, the NHL said: “During conversations over the course of the past two years, we have been impressed by Ryan and Ashley Smith's commitment to their community and their passion and vision for Utah, not only as a hockey market but as a preeminent sports and entertainment destination.
“Utah is a promising market, and we look forward to continuing our discussions.”
The statement from SEG comes with the future of NHL franchise the Arizona Coyotes uncertain. They have been forced to play a second season at the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena on the university campus of Arizona State after their lease at Gila River Arena ended after a tumultuous 20-plus-year relationship with Glendale city officials.
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have said they are looking for a resolution to ensure a long-term future for the Coyotes in the Phoenix area.
Speaking to ESPN, Smith said he would not mind inheriting a relocated team or starting from scratch with an expansion side.
On the potential cost of an expansion side, Smith said: “We know they're not free. We've gone through the purchasing process of two teams [NBA's Utah Jazz and MLS' Real Salt Lake City] in the last 2½ years. So we have a pretty good idea of where things stack.
“That's definitely part of our intention and commitment, and we don't want to go through the process if we're not serious about it. The stadium is another big part of it as well. To get our group around the table and have everyone say unanimously say, 'We're in,' is pretty powerful.”
However, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has consistently reiterated that expansion of the league is not a priority for now after adding the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 and the Seattle Kraken in 2021.
Utah governor Spencer Cox has said: “Utah has a long history with hockey, the strongest economy in the nation, a passionate sports fanbase, and the youngest and most active population.
“These factors make Utah ripe for the expansion of our sports and entertainment community. We couldn't be more excited about the opportunity to welcome the NHL. With the Olympic bid underway, our long-standing reputation as one of the greatest winter sports capitals in the world, and with the proven leadership of Ryan and Ashley Smith and SEG in our community, I am extremely optimistic about the future of Utah.”
Salt Lake City is currently bidding to host the 2034 Winter Olympics and staged the Games in 2022. The Utah Grizzlies play in the East Coast Hockey League and are an affiliate of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.