How newly approved NHL franchise will impact Salt Lake City 2034 Winter Olympics

The IOC says it doesn't need a new arena as part of the Olympic masterplan, but once it's built they'll be willing to consider using the new facility to adjust to the local context. That's Olympic-speak for "don't include that in the Olympics bill."

Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah April 10, 2024 (GamesBids Photo)
Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah April 10, 2024 (GamesBids Photo)

The National Hockey League’s (NHL) announcement Thursday that the Arizona Coyotes will relocate to Salt Lake City, Utah, will likely have positive impacts for the city’s 2034 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bid.

The team’s sale to Ryan and Ashley Smith, owners of Smith Entertainment Group and the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Utah Jazz and Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Real Salt Lake, is reportedly worth USD $1.2 billion. The new team, set to be branded with the Utah name, will stage its first regular home games at the Delta Center in October, also owned by Ryan Smith.

The Delta Center can be configured for hockey but it is a purpose-built basketball arena and provides poor sightlines and lower fan capacity with an ice sheet in place. It’s at best a temporary solution for the new NHL team.

Last month Utah Governor Spencer Cox approved a bill that opened the door for a new arena to be built in downtown Salt Lake City in an area adjacent to the Delta Center. Smith has already expressed interest in the city developing a new entertainment district that could include the arena and a stadium capable of hosting Major League baseball.

Currently the Salt Lake City Winter Games plans leverage existing arenas to host hockey, both legacies from the 2002 Games including Maverik Center in West Valley City and Peaks Ice Arena in Provo (Games time capacities of 10,200 and 10,000, respectively, according to the bid). A new arena could expand capacity, boost revenues and bring the action downtown tightening the already compact Games footprint.

The Delta Center is slated to host figure skating and short track speed skating.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said during a visit to Utah’s proposed venues last week that the current arena plan is sufficient, but the Future Host Commission wouldn’t rule out considering changes in the 10-year run up to the Games should the local context change. The IOC’s sustainability reforms rule out the construction of new venues in the Games masterplan, but a new arena wouldn’t be snubbed if construction were to be completed well ahead of the Games and with a separate purpose.

In the past, massive Olympics cost over runs were usually connected with construction projects for Games specific venues. Even facilities and transportation upgrades that “are going to be built anyways” were eventually associated with the final Olympics bill. The IOC wants to avoid that misconception and that’s why they won’t entertain dialogue about the arena until the ribbon is cut. The same goes with the baseball stadium that could be coming at a later date and may prove to be a good location to host big air, downtown.

The bid committee (SLC-UT) won’t talk about it either. But rest assured, if the arena is built, Olympic hockey will come.

For now the Delta Center will be the temporary home for the new Utah hockey team and it will benefit from renovations that Smith says will be made to improve the facility for ice. Olympic figure skating and speed skating in 2034 will benefit as well.

“We want to actually use our arena and really spend time creating the best dual-sport arena that exists out there, because we want to keep people as close as we possibly can or as vertical as we possibly can to watch both games (basketball and hockey),” Smith told the Associated Press Thursday.

The new NHL team in Salt Lake City is the big boost to the Olympics that nobody is allowed to talk about.

On Thursday Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall wrote on social media platform X “I can’t wait for the future of our downtown and the first NHL game in Salt Lake City! This is the next step toward reinvigorating our downtown and cementing our city as the heart and hub of sports, culture, and entertainment in Utah and the Intermountain West.”

Last November Salt Lake City was chosen as IOC’s preferred candidate to host the 2034 Winter Olympics. The IOC’s Future Host Commission is currently doing due diligence on the bid and the Executive Board will decide whether to recommend plans to the IOC Session during a June meeting. The final vote – more of a rubberstamping – is scheduled for July 24 in Paris, just ahead of the Summer Games.

Edit (April 19, 2024): Adjusted arena capacities

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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