It seems only natural that since the Blaze and Real Salt Lake arrived in Utah almost simultaneously, they would move ahead together, too. And so they are.
Wednesday, in separate but equal news conferences, the Arena Football League team and the Major League Soccer club stated their cases.
RSL's was easily the splashiest of the two. The club announced it will host the 2009 MLS All-Star Game and offered media tours of its almost-completed stadium in Sandy. The event turned out to be part photo-op, part pep rally, with a dash of politics for good measure. Several dignitaries were there, including Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, MLS President Mark Abbott, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and RSL owner Dave Checketts.
You could just feel the vibes.
Whether that was coming from the gravel trucks below or somewhere else was hard to tell. But either way, it was an effective display. The grass was already a resplendent green, as the sprinklers chick-chick-chicked away. The 20,000 or so red chair seats were neatly bolted in place.
All in all, it looked like a place awaiting an event.
"This is now a living, breathing facility," said Checketts.
In that case, it will soon be time to feed the beast. Come October, RSL will be playing in what Abbott called "the best facility in Major League Soccer right now."
Although RSL's new home will be primarily for soccer, team officials are taking a broad approach. They 're hoping to host 40-50 events a year, 16 of which will be Real games. Among the proposed alternate uses: prep sports, graduations, weddings and concerts. Checketts has even considered bringing his other team, the St. Louis Blues, to the stadium to play on an ice sheet.
"Our theme on the stadium is that there's no such thing as a bad idea," said one spokesperson.
Many Utahns believe the stadium itself is a bad idea, but that's an old story. The building is up and the paint is drying.
All it needs now is its healthy dose of gold/maroon/blue-clad fans, and it's officially in business.
"This looks like it could be here for 100 years, and it will," said Checketts.
Meanwhile, 15 miles north and two hours later, the Blaze announced the hiring of Ron James as their new head coach. Team owner Robert Garff, who made his money selling cars, noted that hiring James, formerly a Blaze assistant coach, was like buying a car.
"We always like the customers to take demo rides. It gives them the opportunity to see if they like what they see," said Garff.
He added that they have already test-driven James, who was a Blaze assistant for two years.
The former Las Vegas Gladiators head coach beat out about 50 candidates, promising relentless work, attention to detail and strong discipline. Blaze officials talked about bringing championships to their fans.
"We're looking forward to bringing that championship here, right?" said team president John Garff, looking at James. "No pressure."
Try telling that to Danny White, who resigned under pressure two weeks ago.
Still, the Blaze say they are moving forward. Team officials thanked White, the team, the coaches and the fans for helping get AFL Utah off the ground.
"In the Arena Football League, we're building our fan base one handshake at a time," said team president Jason Jones.
That seems to be the way both Real and the Blaze are doing things. Like politicians and car salespeople both of whom were out in force on Wednesday they are relying on the personal touch. Thus, when the politicians spoke in Sandy, they claimed Real's stadium is a gift to future generations. The Blaze talked about fan loyalty and said Salt Lake is a premier AFL destination.
Not that both teams are lacking challenges. In several ways, they're in the same boat. They compete against one another for fans from March until July. Both need to increase attendance and advance in the playoffs in order to thrive. And both are counting on Utah's inordinately young population to help fill seats.
Which made it all the more appropriate they would have dual Wednesday news conferences, not knowing until that morning they would both be on the stage the same day. Isn't that how it's always been?
RSL played its first game in Salt Lake in 2005, the Blaze came 10 months later.Now it appears they're growing up together, too.
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