Utah Athletic Commission celebrates 20 years – and $ 2 billion in economic impact

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SALT LAKE CITY – For Mike Leavitt, it all started when he saw people borrow money.

The people were Olympic bidders. They wanted to borrow $ 59 million from Utah taxpayers, in the form of a bond, to build a bobsleigh track, ski jumping track, speed skating track, and other winter sports facilities. in the hope that Utah wins an Olympic bid.

It was in 1989; $ 59 million was a lot of money back then, and getting the Winter Olympics wasn’t a sure thing. Some thought it was a pipe dream.

So to get voters to approve the tie, the Olympic boosters got creative. If the Olympics weren’t happening, their reasoning was that the facility would have to be built anyway, as it would turn Utah into a winter sports capital, paying dividends well over the $ 59 million mark. .

Everyone knows the rest of the story: the sales pitch worked, the link passed, the facilities were built, the 2002 Olympics were awarded.

Leavitt, who became governor of Utah in 1992, has never lost sight of the bidders strategy if you build it the world will come. Even before the Olympics arrived, he was thinking about how to capitalize on the Games after they appeared.

To that end, in 2000 he created the Utah Athletic Commission and hired a former tennis pro named Jeff Robbins to lead it.

Leavitt instructed Robbins: “I told him he had to be someone who gets up every morning and thinks about hosting sporting events in Utah,” Leavitt said in an interview this week. “It turns out we couldn’t have picked someone better.

Part of the reason was that Robbins is competitive by nature, a born, nice, persistent salesperson.

The other part was stupid luck.

Robbins, as fate had done, had never skied, never snowboarded, never strapped on ice skates. From an early age he was a tennis player, ranked number one in the country when he played for the University of Utah. Sports on ice and snow likely to injure him were prohibited. He grew up in Salt Lake City, but it might as well have been Miami.

When Leavitt tasked him with thinking about hosting sporting events in Utah, Robbins didn’t limit himself to winter sports. He thought of everything sports.

“The way I saw it, sport is sport. They all need venues, volunteers, sponsors, visibility, no matter when they’re played, ”Robbins said. “I think if someone else had come and focused entirely on winter it would have been different”,

This year, the Utah Athletic Commission, with Robbins still in charge, is celebrating its 20th year of operation.

To commemorate the occasion, the commission took stock of the impact it has had over the past two decades.

Through his efforts over the past 20 years, a total of 850 events – an average of almost one per week – have been held in 27 Utah cities across the state, resulting in an economic impact of over $ 2 billion.

That’s $ 1,941 million more than that original $ 59 million obligation … and it continues.

Just try to name a sport that hasn’t been here at least once. Besides the traditional Olympic winter sports, there has been everything from archery to weightlifting; jet ski racing in judo; crossfit in mixed martial arts; ultimate frisbee fishing; lacrosse at the annual Red Bull Rampage in Virgin (where mountain bikers seem to be trying to kill themselves but don’t).

In April, the World Fencing Championships will be held at the Salt Palace. In May, the Monster Energy Supercross World Finals are slated for at Rice-Eccles Stadium, an off-road motorcycle event expected to generate between $ 80 million and $ 100 million in economic impact – the biggest payout since the Olympics. In 2021, the Ironman World Championships will be held in St. George.

If it weren’t for the Utah Athletic Commission, the Utah Fairgrounds wouldn’t be bragging about what none other than Tony Hawk has proclaimed the world’s largest skatepark; there would be no annual State of Sport awards, no Nitro World Games.

If this all sounds like bragging, it should. Because although it would appear that setting up a sports commission like the one in Utah is standard operating procedure for most states, and especially those who have hosted the Olympics, for whatever reason. , This is not the case.

Go to places that have hosted the Olympics, winter and summer, and more often than not their Olympic legacy ended with their Olympics. Look at Rio and Sochi, two recent Olympic hosts. Their facilities are neglected; or at best recycled.

Utah didn’t do that. The 2002 Winter Olympics are the gift that continues to bear fruit.

“We never looked at the Games as 17 days in February 2002,” Leavitt said. “We saw the Games as a way to bring a brand to Utah, which meant we could compete with the world and we could win. “


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