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Utah Yetis? Ryan Smith hits ‘Pat McAfee Show’ to stump for Utah as best place for NHL

Jazz owner Ryan Smith made his case for why Utah is ready to host a new NHL franchise

SHARE Utah Yetis? Ryan Smith hits ‘Pat McAfee Show’ to stump for Utah as best place for NHL
Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith talks to media.

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith talks to media about the upcoming NBA All-Star 2023 Weekend at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Just hours after news went public that Smith Entertainment Group made a formal request to the NHL for starting the process to bring an expansion team to Salt Lake City, Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith appeared on “The Pat McAfee Show” to talk about why Utah is the best place for a top-tier professional hockey franchise.

And while Smith said the Utah Yetis is one of the names he’s seen pop up on the numerous social media postings about potential names for a future NHL club, his top focus right now is getting a team here.

“Our No. 1 goal is, let’s land the plane here and get the NHL in Utah and we can worry about all the other stuff after that,” Smith said, during the 30-minute segment on the program that included plenty of banter about his golf game, hoops prowess and other stuff.

While demurring on possible team names for the moment, Smith had plenty to share with McAfee, whose daily sports commentary show runs on ESPN and YouTube, about what distinguishes Utah from a handful of other locations that have also telegraphed their interest in an NHL franchise.

“If you look at the momentum of Utah, we’ve got to put something in front of (NHL league officials) that’s pretty tough for them to turn down and I think we’ve done that,” Smith said. “We’ve got the youngest demographic in the country, the fastest-growing state, we’re in the process of (securing) the Olympics, which is massive, for 2034. We’ve got a top five tech ecosystem, we’ve sold out 251 straight Jazz games. It’s going to be successful. If you take a step back and look at that momentum ... it’s pretty compelling from our standpoint. And our ownership group is lined up and ready to go.”

McAfee lauded Smith for his enthusiasm for his home state and asked where all the gusto comes from.

“Look, we have incredible people in Utah,” Smith said. “I’m not the spokesperson for the state of Utah, but what I can explain is I think it’s one of the most unique places on the planet. I’ve been everywhere. Utah is different. It’s unbelievable.

“(Utah) is good for the soul. In a world where wellness and mental health and all of that is at an all-time low, I get back to Utah whenever I travel and I just take a deep breath and I’m like, this is incredible.”

Smith, a tech entrepreneur who co-founded the wildly successful customer experience software company Qualtrics, also touted his hopes that a new Utah hockey team can usher in some of the same energy and inclusiveness that the Jazz have brought to residents of he state, outside the on-court NBA action.

“We’ve got 60,000 kids playing Jr. Jazz basketball,” Smith said, adding he’d like to start a junior hockey program as well. “While tech is great and it’s an incredible platform, sports is the greatest unifying platform of all time.

“When you look at what sports can do, it’s invigorating. So, the idea to continue that with hockey and try to replicate what the Jazz have done for the community? You’ve gotta go for it.”

Smith also celebrated the response that SEG’s expansion request received from NHL league officials who posted a story on its website, as well as a very positive response on social media.

“We weren’t really 100 % expecting the response they had today but them leaning and saying, ‘Hey, look, we know Utah is an incredible market … and we’re watching the growth in Utah and everything else and the desirability of that region ... and we’ll continue the discussion,’ that’s a really, really good approach. That’s a good acknowledgment of where we’re at,” he said.

Smith also told McAfee that the possibility of acquiring an existing NHL team, like the struggling Arizona Coyotes, wasn’t necessarily off the table alongside the formal expansion request.

“Our goal is NHL,” Smith said. “And I’ll leave the rest on how all that happens to (NHL Commissioner) Gary (Bettman). We’re ready to go and we just want to be true partners with the league … and let those powers figure out what’s the best way to get something here.”

Wednesday’s news also drew a slew of social media postings from local and national notables. Here’s a sampling: