Editor's note: This News Extra is another in a series of stories done in cooperation with Project 2000, a community-based group that strives to promote dialogue on issues facing Utah during the next two decades.
While the pursuit of economic development may seem a dull and boring labor, it isn't completely without its glamorous side.With amateur athletics growing by leaps and bounds in 1980s, the idea of going out and bringing sports competitions to town has suddenly emerged as just the kind of glitzy, high-profile ingredient government and community leaders can add to tweak existing economic development formulas.
Utah's entry into this burgeoning sports marketplace is the Utah Sports Foundation, a publicly and privately funded organization that, among other things, can take credit for bringing the U.S. Olympic Gymnastic Trials to the Salt Palace July 29 through Aug. 6.
"I don't think people realize it yet, but we're talking about the Olympic trials," said Dave Johnson, the foundation's executive director. "The team they pick here will be the one that goes on to represent the United States in Seoul, Korea. ABC will be here with eight camera locations showing the women's finals live on Aug. 6 and they'll tape-delay the men's finals. This is a major event."
And Johnson is expecting such a major event to generate major bucks.
He estimates the trials will result in between $3.5 million and $5 million in economic benefits for the state.
Not bad, Johnson said, for the event's $600,000 budget - about one-fourth of which was donated by the event's three primary sponsors: AT&T, Coca Cola and KUTV.
Other corporate sponsors, such as Konica, have paid significantly smaller fees for the right to be able to host individual events, such as rhythmic gymnastics. All told, about $175,000 has been donated either in cash or in-kind services.
He said the remainder of the foundation's outlay is to be recouped primarily through ticket sales.
"We're already to the point where the event won't lose money and the foundation may even show a profit," he said. "With this area being a hotbed for gymnastics, I think we stand to break all previous attendance figures for an Olympic gymnastics trials."
Johnson said of the 2,600 tickets already sold for the gymnastic trials, about 1,200 have been sold to people out-of-state. And those people have purchased six-day ticket packages, meaning they'll be spending a minimum of four or five days in Salt Lake City.
It's been done before in Utah.
The 1984 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships were also held at the Salt Palace and, Johnson said, it is still considered one of the most valuable weekends, from an economic development standpoint, in the state's history.
He said it generated more economically than an LDS general conference weekend, which has always been a boon to local businesses.
He thinks the Olympic gymnastic trials have every appearance of being just as successful.
"What we're doing in this office is giving people another reason to make Salt Lake City their destination," Johnson said.