NBA basketball has been in Utah for over 40 years and Major League Soccer made its debut nearly two decades ago, but residents of the Beehive State are hungry for more professional sports and a new statewide poll found out just what’s at the top of their wish list.

A quick look at the numbers helps illustrate how ready Utah sports fans are to get out and support their teams and, across the board, a state with just over 3 million residents hits well above its weight class.

Last year the Jazz averaged over 18,000 fans for every home game, continuing a long-running streak of sellouts and coming in at No. 13 in the NBA rankings for home game crowds. Just for fun, that number puts them a slot above the Golden State Warriors. Real Salt Lake held down the No. 11 spot across the MLS last year when it comes to fandom flow, averaging over 20,000 faithful at each of its 17 home matches at America First Field in Sandy.

With the closest in-person pro football opportunity over 400 miles down I-15 to see the Las Vegas Raiders play at Allegiant Field (and, yes, the whole playing surface slides out of the domed arena on a tray to bask in the sun) Utahns are happy to flock in force to their fave college games.

In 2022, BYU Cougar football drew an average of nearly 60,000 to LaVell Edwards Stadium for every home game, ranking No. 27 in the country among college teams. And, the University of Utah Utes were No. 4 in the Pac-12 with their own home game average attendance of just over 52,000.

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But what new pro sports opportunities are Utahns most interested in seeing added to the local scene, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll?

The NFL just edged out Major League Baseball among poll participants’ favorites coming in at 33% and 31%, respectively. Behind baseball, the next most sought after addition to the Utah pro sports portfolio was a National Women’s Soccer League franchise, with 18% support from respondents (a NWSL franchise will be returning to Utah beginning in the 2024 season).

The National Hockey League and Women’s National Basketball Association rounded out the list, with 10% and 9%, respectively.

The statewide survey was conducted Aug. 7-14 of 803 registered Utah voters by Dan Jones and Associates. The data comes with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

West Jordan resident Adam Morgan, 32, said he already attends almost every BYU football home game, regularly goes to Utah Jazz games and sees a couple Real Salt Lake matches each season. But Morgan said he’d be chasing a season ticket for an NFL team, if one ever made it to Utah.

“I don’t really see it happening, but if someone was able to lure an NFL franchise to Utah, I’d be first in line for season tickets,” Morgan said.

Morgan also likes the idea of a Beehive State-based MLB team but was a little cynical about baseball’s prospects, as well.

“It would be so cool but how many home games are there? Like 80?” Morgan said. “Not sure we have enough people to support that.”

Pro sports experts have plenty of their own cynicism about Utah’s prospects when it comes to adding a new top-level sports franchise to the mix, but local optimism about the idea is brimming over.

Right now, active but separate pursuits are in play to bring MLB and NHL to Utah. The state has also shown up on various pundit lists of possible future sites for an NFL franchise, though that appears to be a significant long-shot compared to other possibilities.

Sports superfan Gov. Spencer Cox has made no secret of his excitement when it comes to new Utah-based pro sports possibilities, though he’s qualified his enthusiasm with some strict parameters when it comes to what role taxpayer dollars should play, or not play rather, in making a deal happen.

When speculation about a Utah NFL team started bubbling up back in 2021, Cox said he would be “all over” an opportunity to bring a professional football team to the state.

“I don’t know if there’s a limit on how hard I would push to get an NFL team here in Utah,” Cox said in response to a question about the league during his monthly PBS Utah news conference in November 2021.

Cox was also bullish on the effort to bring America’s Pastime to Utah after the Big League Utah coalition and its mission to lure an MLB team to the state was unveiled back in April.

“Utah has the strongest economy in the country, is a top 30 media market, and is the fastest-growing state with the youngest population,” Cox said in an April press statement. “These are the ingredients for a Major League Baseball market. As the Crossroads of the West, Utah has successfully hosted large sporting events, like the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and two NBA All-Star Games and is home to thriving professional and collegiate sports teams. We boast of the Greatest Snow on Earth, five national parks and 46 state parks. We are on the radar and pushing as hard as we can.”

Alongside Big League Utah’s MLB chase is Utah tech entrepreneur Ryan Smith, who is looking to add an NHL franchise to his fast-growing, multi-pronged Smith Entertainment Group. Smith is already the principal owner of the Utah Jazz, co-owner of Real Salt Lake and sees a great opportunity in bringing professional ice hockey to Utah under the SEG banner.

Earlier this year, Smith spoke with the hosts of Canadian hockey podcast “32 Thoughts” about his interest in the NHL, rumors that the Arizona Coyotes could be ripe for a move to Utah and how he sees pro hockey fitting into the docket for local fans.

“I think my message on that has been consistent,” Smith said. “We’re a partner (with the NHL), we’re here, we’re ready to help in any way we can.”

Smith also underscored his faith that “Utah is ripe for it” when it comes to its readiness to host a successful future NHL team and cited evidence he sees of pent-up demand for a hometown take on professional hockey.

“We’re already the winter sports capital of the world,” Smith said. “The Olympics are coming back, 7 million people are coming here every year for winter sports and almost every single winter sport is headquartered here in one way or another.

“If you look at the success we’ve had and how much people want to go out ... it’s a very family-focused environment where people really want to go to games. We’ve had 240 straight sellouts at the Utah Jazz. Last year was not our best year as we went through a rebuilding and it didn’t matter. The place was full.”

Smith also highlighted the stellar success of the Utah Jazz-hosted 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend back in February. That event helped highlight Smith’s contention that Utah has moved well past its days as a small potatoes pro sports market and is ready to expand its big league bonafides.

“It’s not a small market even though it’s still branded a small market,” Smith said. “Look at the growth and where we are. Looking at the NBA, we’re definitely creeping up into the top 10 in almost every category. We’re more mid-market or upper market when it comes to that.”