The NFL in Utah: Possible or pipe dream?

By Ryan Teeples

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Feb. 1 2013 11:35 a.m. MST

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs from Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike Neal (96) and cornerback Casey Hayward (29) during the second quarter of an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game in San Francisco, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Tony Avelar, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns love their football.

High School fans pack stadiums on frigid Friday nights while Saturdays (plus Thursdays and conference weekend Friday) are reserved for college football — even if the games aren’t in the afternoon anymore.

And while each winter the Cougars, Aggies and Utes may find themselves gearing up for a final battle in a bowl game, it’s a bittersweet moment, for fans realize it’s the last glorious hurrah for the local gridironers for eight long, torturous, rumor-filled months.

So as we approach the Sunday of all Sundays for NFL fans, sports-minded individuals in the Beehive state inevitably begin cranking their proverbial mental gears to consider a decade-old question:

Could Utah support an NFL team?

Those mental jumping-jacks lead to inevitable myopic thoughts of Super Bowl victory parades and trophy presentations in downtown SLC as the greatest snow on earth falls and the world watches.

While such dreams are as likely to come true as a 2013 Jazz run through the finals, it’s still interesting to study the business and demographic feasibility of Utah supporting a team in that pinnacle of all sports leagues.

So, let’s, shall we?

By the numbers

Fans eager to predict an NFL franchise could thrive in Salt Lake City as the Jazz have are quick to point out, in terms of population, Utah is on par with other NFL towns.

Buffalo, Jacksonville, Charlotte and even Cleveland all pop to the top of the list as examples of smaller-market geos that have found success in supporting a team under The Shield.

That is certainly true. Smaller markets have successfully built impressive franchises.

This chart shows the smallest NFL cities’ rank among all US cities based on metropolitan population from the 2010 census. I’ve thrown in Salt Lake City and San Antonio for purposes of comparison.

Looking at those numbers, it’s natural to think, “If those cities can do it, Salt Lake certainly can. And I’d totally jump on the bandwagon. After all, I’ve only been a Ute fan since 2005 and I love them!”

But the numbers aren’t telling the entire story.

Businesses don’t look at cities. They look at markets. And when you look at these geographic areas through that magnifying glass, the picture begins to look very different.

Designated Market Area, or DMA, is a Nielson trademarked household and media-market size metric used by marketers and analysts as a starting point for audience or fan-base focused investigations — like whether a professional sports team can thrive or survive in a compact, finite media market with highly attractive women like Salt Lake City.

So here’s the same table including the Nelson DMA television market rank:

Notice how markets like Cleveland, Charlotte and Nashville become much more attractive when you consider number of households in an extended market.

However, you’ll also notice when considering DMA, markets like Jacksonville, New Orleans and Buffalo appear to be much less desirable for business ventures that are TV/household centric like professional sports.

But that’s still only part of the story.

You also have to consider related smaller markets to get a complete understanding of what fan support in a given market would look like.

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