Smith Entertainment Group requests initiation of formal expansion process by National Hockey League
Salt Lake City—Smith Entertainment Group (SEG) – the parent company of the Utah Jazz, Delta Center, Real Salt Lake (MLS), the Utah Royals (NWSL), and several other Utah-based sports and entertainment ventures – today announced that it has formally requested that the National Hockey League (NHL) initiate an expansion process with the ultimate purpose of bringing an NHL franchise to Utah. SEG has also made clear its immediate ability to welcome an NHL team to Utah, using Delta Center as an interim home arena for an NHL franchise.
“SEG envisions a near future where the NHL will thrive in Utah, and we are 100% focused on making this happen as soon as possible,” said Ryan Smith, chairman of Smith Entertainment Group and governor of the Utah Jazz. “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.”
Led by Ryan and Ashley Smith, SEG has been in discussions with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman since early 2022 about its passion for having a team and why it believes that Utah is the ideal market for an NHL franchise. NHL franchise decisions are decided exclusively by the NHL Board of Governors. Should the NHL act favorably and grant SEG a franchise, the team would either join the Utah Jazz in Delta Center on a temporary basis or begin play in the next several years upon the completion of a new, state-of-the-art hockey arena. Delta Center has hosted five NHL games since 2018 as part of the LA Kings “Frozen Fury” preseason exhibition series. The location for a potential new arena designated for hockey has yet to be determined.
“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,” said Governor Spencer Cox. “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.”
There is a great hockey legacy in Utah. The state’s first-ever professional hockey team dates back to 1969 with the debut of the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, who played until 1994. When professional hockey returned to Utah in 1995 as part of the International Hockey League, with the Denver Grizzlies becoming the Utah Grizzlies, the Utah Grizzlies won the league’s Turner Cup Championship during the 1995-96 season. Today, the Utah Grizzlies are the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) affiliate of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
“All eyes are on Utah for the recent and rapid evolution of our sports landscape, especially with the Utah Royals back this spring and Salt Lake City’s Olympic bid underway. There is so much momentum happening at the state level around global sports and sports infrastructure,” said Smith. “While Delta Center is ready to serve as an interim solution for an NHL team, Utah will need a new arena designed for professional and Olympic hockey.”
“Having Smith Entertainment Group pursue bringing professional hockey to Utah could not come at a better time,” said Fraser Bullock, chair of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, the group preparing to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games back to the United States. “With the Olympics all but certain to return to Utah, a new, state-of-the-art, hockey-specific arena would be a huge contribution to our ability to host a world-class Games, including the Women’s and Men’s gold medal hockey games. And bringing professional hockey to Utah will further help cement Utah’s place as a premier destination for winter sports. The Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games is excited to work with SEG on the Olympics and what that will mean for sports and entertainment in Utah long term.”
The growth of the NHL’s business combined with the quality of the on-ice product have provided the League with great momentum. By virtually every metric, interest in the NHL has never been higher. The interest is reflected in national broadcast ratings on ESPN and TNT that are up by almost 30% over last season. Attendance is also at an all-time high. Through the first half of the 2023-24 season, the League has averaged more than 17,000 fans per game, playing to 96.5% of capacity.
The game on the ice has never been better with offense at its highest levels in more than 25 years. The League also has an unmatched competitive balance, averaging a 35% turnover in playoff teams every year under its current playoff system and nearly half of all games seeing a team overcome a deficit to win.
SEG is committed to developing incredible assets and creating memorable experiences that bring the community together. Since its founding in December 2020 with the purchase of the Utah Jazz and Delta Center, SEG has rapidly expanded its portfolio as part of its commitment to Utah and to showcasing the state as a premier sports and entertainment destination.
In January 2022, SEG invested in Real Salt Lake, which expanded to encompass the Utah Royals upon their return to the state for the 2024 National Women’s Soccer League season. Between August 2022 and July 2023, SEG secured two UFC pay-per-view fights at Delta Center, among dozens of other high-profile shows, many of which had never previously visited Utah. In June 2023, SEG announced the launch of SEG Media, a new sports media division, which made an immediate impact on the way Utah fans could consume sports, specifically distributing Utah Jazz games through a combination of an over-the-air TV channel, a subscription-based streaming service, and other network partnerships. SEG Media’s future plans include producing and distributing content for other SEG entities and external partners such as the NHL.
Throughout the past three years, SEG has also made deep investments to support the Utah community. Among those initiatives is the Utah Jazz Scholarship Program, which has provided more than 114 students from an underrepresented group with a full cost-of-attendance scholarship to one of six universities in Utah.
About Smith Entertainment Group
Smith Entertainment Group (SEG) is a sports, entertainment, real estate, and technology investment group focused primarily on the state of Utah. SEG’s portfolio includes the Utah Jazz (NBA), Delta Center, SEG Media, Real Salt Lake (MLS), the Utah Royals (NWSL), America First Credit Union Field, Salt Lake City Stars (NBA G League), Utah Jazz Gaming (NBA 2K League), Real Monarchs (MLS NEXT Pro), and other Utah-centric business ventures.
Media Contact: Caroline Klein, 414-732-5352, [email protected]