Two billion global viewers tuned in for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. One and a half million tickets to the games were sold—more than half of Utah's total population—making it the largest sporting event the state has hosted. (Salt Lake 2002)
The games immensely contributed to Utah's storied sports history and brought new life and recognition to many of the state's great venues. As part of my four-part Utah stadium journey, I will be grading six more sports venues around Salt Lake City with many that hosted Olympic events.
To refresh you on my grading criteria, I am giving each venue an A-F grade based on the criteria below.
- Historical Relevance
- Events Stadium Holds or Held
To keep our list focused, I only considered stadiums that primarily focus on sporting events and have 2,000+ seating capacities. I will only be choosing one stadium/arena from each major college as well. I know some colleges have multiple wonderful venues, but this will limit me to highlight my favorite one. I will also not be including any high school stadiums.
Stadiums are ordered based on their north-south location. Without delay, let’s dive into our journey starting with a newly-constructed rodeo specific stadium.
Days of '47 Arena (Salt Lake City, UT)
Photo Credit: Okland Construction
Overview: The Days of ‘47 Arena is the most recent rodeo-specific stadium to be built. Opening in 2017 with a 10,000 seat capacity, the arena is named after its main event, the Days of ‘47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo, a five-day event that includes some of the top rodeo talent in the world. Situated in the Utah State Fairpark, the arena also hosts various concerts during the state fair.
What I Like
Revitalizing the Rodeo: In Utah, each city has their own summer rodeo competition with Salt Lake City's being the Days of '47. At one point, the rodeo was held inside at Vivint Smart Home Arena downtown—the same place the event was dying. With the introduction of the outside rodeo-specific arena, the event was revitalized by bringing its western culture and tradition to a better location. The rodeo has been able to have more realistic mountain men villages, Native American encampments, and even real life longhorns for guests to interact with during its pre-rodeo nightly activities.
Remembering the Legend: As you walk into the arena, Lewis Feild’s bronze statue greets you. For non-rodeo super fans, Feild was one of the best. He won three all-around world championships, two bareback riding world championships, three Linderman Awards (winning at least $1,000 in each of three events),(Nicolaus) the 1980 PRCA Rookie of the Year, and was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Utah Sports Hall of Fame. (Lewis) He even has a riding award named after him that is awarded to the highest-point bareback winner at Utah’s three main rodeos.(Ninth Annual) Yep, this man was a legend, and I like the arena’s callback to his legacy with this statue.
Watching the Rodeo: While Ogden Pioneer Days has good seating, the Days of ‘47 Arena has better seating for watching rodeo activities. With the circular shape of the arena, no seats are bad and some seats are shaded. The seats are more comfortable than other arenas' metal benches, and every fan can see replays on two opposing video screen boards,
Photo Credit: Nowplayingutah.comWhat I Want
When I go into a stadium, I want to feel a connection to what makes the venue unique from others. I think this stadium is the best to watch one of the top rodeos in the nation, but it lacks personality. Other than Lewis Feild’s statue and the stadium name facing the parking lot, the arena has nothing else that gives it any sort of unique trait. I think if they included more artistic pieces (thinking cowboy hats, horseshoes, and Days of ‘47 logo outlines in the brick exterior) or other elements that fit the rodeo theme (maybe a horseshoe sand pit) this stadium would be a prime national rodeo destination.
Stadium Colors: As you can see in the picture above, the color theme looks like all the seats are dusty. While this fits the rodeo theme, I feel it makes the arena look dirtier than it is. Instead, could the bright blue and orange color from the Days of ‘47 logo be used? That might make it look more like Boise State University’s field, but at least it would inject more personality.
I love what the stadium has done in revitalizing Salt Lake’s summer rodeo tradition, but I wish it did have that unique personality factor. I just see it as a brick and steel stadium with no real identity. While the stadium is not going to win awards for being an architectural masterpiece, the arena has one of the most exciting atmospheres to watch a rodeo. Hopefully, the owners will flush out the arena out more in the future.
Rice-Eccles Stadium (Salt Lake City, UT)
Photo Credit: University of Utah Athletics
Overview: Rice-Eccles Stadium is near the heart of Salt Lake City, Utah. Opening in 1998, and with 45,807 fans that can pack the stadium, the University of Utah Football team has no better support system during their season. The stadium also hosts the Utes Men's Lacrosse games during the spring. Past events have included the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympics, Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake home matches, AMA Supercross Championships, the Alliance of American Football's Salt Lake Stallions, and various concerts.
What I Like
Olympic Opening History: As mentioned in the introduction, the 2002 Winter Olympics were the biggest Utah sporting event ever. Many Utahns will also say that it helped to put Salt Lake City on the map. For the world's first view and Olympics after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Rice-Eccles was tasked to host the opening ceremonies. A beautiful tribute to the fallen lives, wonderful John Williams music, and other performances kicked off the games. To have the whole world watching for the first impression of your city is a monumental task, but Rice-Eccles pulled it out.
Olympic Cauldron Park: Along with hosting the ceremonies, Rice-Eccles has preserved parts of the games for guests to see in this wonderful park. Currently, the stadium is expanding their seating, and will move the cauldron to a space west of where it was which included a museum and visitor's center. The stadium plans to upgrade the new park with a new 16-18 foot concrete pedestal for the cauldron to sit on and a water features surrounding the cauldron. (Jewel) I admire how Rice-Eccles has kept this historical piece intact. Unlike other Olympic venues across the world that are deteriorating and being left for dead, Rice-Eccles has been excelling in maintaining the game's legacy.
Photo Credit: University of Utah
Transit to the Stadium: Rice-Eccles is the only Utah college stadium that has accessible public transit leading right to it. The Utah light-rail TRAX system can take you to the stadium and connect you to other lines that go throughout the Salt Lake Valley. Having this option to bypass traffic and finding parking is a massive asset for fans trying to get to a game.
What I Want
Less Road Confusion: I have made deliveries up to the University of Utah before near the stadium, and accidentally went down a one way road. This deceptive road looked like a two-way street, but I was wrong and almost got in a wreck. Along with the roads that have dividers between them, make sure you are focused when you come here for the first time or you might go down streets you are not suppose to. I wish that the roads were more simple and did not have random one-way streets or dividers to block off certain access.
More Big Events: While University of Utah Football brings in hundreds of thousands of fans each season, (the lacrosse team's third ranked national average attendance of 2,561 has some time to catch up to fill Rice-Eccles) (University) the stadium does not host many other events throughout the year. For being so close to downtown, I wish that they would utilize their facilities for other major events consistently.
For hosting the Olympic Opening & Closing Ceremonies and with a dedicated piece to that legacy for guests to still see, Rice-Eccles' grade is very high. Combine that with the football program's national success and atmosphere and you have one of the state's best sports stadiums.
Vivint Smart Home Arena (Salt Lake City, UT)
Photo Credit: Ravepubs.com
Overview: Vivint Smart Home has been the center piece for Utah's sports scene since 1991. Being home to the state's biggest professional franchise in the Utah Jazz, the arena has 18,300 seats and hosts some G-League home games for the Salt Lake Stars, the Beehive Classic for all major state college basketball teams, NCAA March Madness first round tournament games, concerts, and shows. The arena also hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic short track speed skating and figure skating events, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, preseason NHL games, the Days of '47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo, and the Arena Football League Utah Blaze team.
What I Like
Sensory Room: In Utah, 33% of households have children under 18—the highest in the nation. (American Cities) With lots of kids running around the state, the arena has taken the opportunity to provide a wonderful option for families who have kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The sensory room is a place where individuals can calm or stimulate a specific sense while feeling at home. This is the perfect space for individuals and kids who find the arena too loud, quiet, cold, or hot. (Sensory) showing how committed the arena is to making every fan's experience special.
Photo Credit: Utah Jazz
Legend Statues: While the Utah Jazz have current stars like Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, I would argue the best franchise players are John Stockton and Karl Malone. These two stars led the Jazz to their only NBA Finals appearances, and hold numerous rankings in NBA record books. To commemorate the two best players in franchise history, you can find their two bronze statues in the arena's southeast plaza surrounded by a lovely grouping of trees. These statues pay great homage, and I respect the team for creating this plaza for them.
Arena Transit: The arena is situated in Salt Lake City's downtown, and has great access for fans. Like Rice-Eccles, the Utah Transit Authority's TRAX system takes you right to the arena's front doors. However, this stop is part of Salt Lake's Free Fare zone meaning you do not need a paying ticket. The zone spans from the Frontrunner station (70+ mph train that connects stops from Provo to Ogden) to other great areas downtown. Fans can avoid traffic and parking by utilizing this alternative option.
What I Want
Crazy Fans: The arena's atmosphere is fantastic, but the fans have sometimes been known to cause trouble. Ask NBA superstar Russell Westbrook his experience with them. For me, a fan base that is so committed that they are antagonistic rubs me the wrong way. Their hateful passion has a negative effect on my game experience. I am all for passionate sports fans, but sometimes, their antics can get out of hand. While they have clashed with opposing teams, Vivint Smart Home Arena remains one of the most intimidating arenas to play in.
Arena Design: While it has great grounds, food options, and a great atmosphere, the architecture is nothing special; it is just a box with some nice windows for lighting. When the arena was constructed, I wish that they had implemented some other architectural pieces to give the building itself more personality. While I am not knocking on how nice the facility is, I just want something unique about how the building looks. That may be ambiguous, but I am entitled to my opinion.
While I want the arena's design to be something other than a box, it truly has been a centerpiece for Utah's sports history. While Rice-Eccles kicked off the state's most important sporting event, Vivint Smart Home Arena is home to the state's most storied professional franchise. Not only do they host the Jazz, but they have hosted other high profile events including Olympic and college basketball events. Plus, with what they have been doing to accommodate fans and pay homage to their players, they deserve the highest grade possible.
Smith's Ballpark (Salt Lake City, UT)
Photo Credit: Zach Spedden with Ballparkdigest.com
Overview: Smith's Ballpark has been the home to the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees and University of Utah baseball team since opening its doors in 1994. The ballpark can hold up to 14,511 fans.
What I Like
Two Towers at Front Gates: When you come through the stadium's front gate, two beautiful brick towers seem to hold the stadium up. While they are not as tall or devious like the Two Towers in Lord of the Rings, they do have nice windows with glass art of baseball players. This adds a nice artistic touch to the towers and is a majestic entry way heading into the ballpark.
Photo Credit: Springtrainingonline.com
Lawn General Admission Seating: In Part I of this article series, I had grass seats on my wish list for the Ogden Raptor's Lindquist Field. Smith's Ballpark does outfield lawn seating right. With the entire outfield being a grassy hill to lay blankets out on to watch baseball, the ballpark has that "summer picnic," feel that I love. The grass seats also allow for movable flexibility when trying to obtain stray home run balls.
Salt Lake Bees Fun Zone: I am seeing this trend of putting playgrounds in more modern stadiums, and I love it! Whoever came up with the idea is a genius in my opinion. Your kids can now play on something to get their wiggles out while you still watch the game. Seeing these shows me how much ownership is trying to help fans with children, so that all can enjoy the stadium's amenities.
What I Want
Fun Zone Location: While the Fun Zone is a great concept for the stadium's design and atmosphere, Smith's Ballpark placed theirs in the worst possible location. If you are standing near the play structure with your kids, you can hardly see any baseball action because of trees blocking your view. The Fun Zone is also behind the outfield grass seats and the concourse where people are walking. If the Fun Zone was elevated, it would have a great view, but it is on the same level as the trees and concourse walkers.
Connection to Utah: Besides the Bees logo, nothing about this stadium seems to have any historical or cultural connection to Utah. For Utah being the Beehive State, I would imagine hive imagery all over the place, or even the seats to be yellow and black. None of those features are played out in this park. I am disappointed the facility has not fully embraced this theme.
Basic Ballpark Design: While the ballpark is a fun place to watch a game and enjoy some great amenities, the design is nothing special. Do not get me wrong; the ballpark is beautiful, but it is not unique. Like the comments above, I wish they have constructed elements with the bee/hive theme in mind. As an example, they could make the dirt around home plate and the on-deck circle be hexagonal instead of circular. They could also make the concessions stand cutouts be hexagonal instead of rectangular. Those would spice up common ballpark areas.
This is a great stadium to catch a game. I think it has some great amenities like the Fun Zone and outfield lawn seats, but it lacks a unique design and connection to Utah. I also gave it a lower ranking due to the fact that while it hosts some of the state's best baseball, it does not hold many other major events that have had the same weight like Rice-Eccles, Vivint Smart Home, or other Olympic venues.
Maverik Center (West Valley City, UT)
Photo Credit: Visit Salt Lake
Overview: Opening in 1997, the Maverik Center can hold up to 12,600 seats. While is is primarily known to be the home of ECHL Utah Grizzlies hockey team, the arena has a long event history including hosting the 2002 Winter Olympic and Paralympic hockey events, the Days of '47 Bulls & Broncs competition, Salt Lake Screaming Eagles and Utah Blaze arena football games, Utah Freezz indoor soccer matches, various wrestling matches, and the Best of Utah Gymnastics meet. The arena also hosts various concerts and other shows.
What I Like
Olympic History: I am a massive hockey aficionado. I also love sporting events where nations have to compete against each other. The Maverik Center combined those two worlds together when being the headquarters for 2002's Olympic hockey games. The arena did a wonderful job hosting these events and it was the first time in Winter Olympic History where a country won both gold medals in the men's and women's competitions (Canada).
Hockey Atmosphere: Sticking with my hockey love, the arena is home to Utah's highest-level hockey team, the Utah Grizzlies. I admit that the Grizzlies are nowhere near NHL talent, but they do have a great following and passionate fan base that makes the games exciting. Along with the usual in-game entertainment, catching a game here is fast-paced and fun.
Photo Credit: ArenaNetwork
Surrounding Area: Not only is the arena a great facility with a storied history, but it has a robust surrounding area too. Whether you are wanting to eat, stay the night, or catch easy public transit to explore downtown Salt Lake, this area has it all. They have sports pubs and grills, restaurant chains (Applebee's and Cracker Barrel), and five hotels directly around the arena. For primarily being a minor league hockey arena, I am impressed by these options.
What I Want
Exit Parking: The Maverik Center has lots of spaces, but I wish getting out of the parking lot after an event is easier. There is only one way out of the stadium and with everyone leaving at once, the traffic is terrible.
More Events: For having a great surrounding area and easy accessibility, I wish the arena had higher-profile events to attract fans to. While I understand that many major promoters would want to host their events downtown in Salt Lake City at Vivint Smart Home Arena, this arena is still a great option. I like what they do with the Best of Utah Gymnastics meet with all major local college programs competing, so maybe they could bring in college hockey tournaments. I also think they could attract the women's national hockey team to come and play a few exhibition matches. This is just my wishful thinking though, as I feel like fans do not realize how great of a facility this is.
I love the amenities and infrastructure the arena provided to host one of the biggest Olympic events during the 2002 Winter Games. I gave it a tick lower on the grade because of the parking situation and not hosting the same major events like Rice-Eccles or Vivint Smart Home Arena. I really hope they bring in more high-profile events in the future though since they deserve more attention for what they can provide.
Lifetime Activities Center - Bruins Arena (Taylorsville, UT)
Photo Credit: SLCC Athletics
Overview: This arena is on Salt Lake Community College's campus and has a 5,000 seating capacity. Along with being home to the Community College basketball teams, the Salt Lake Stars, G-League affiliates of the Utah Jazz, call this arena home. The arena has also hosted the Utah High School Girls Basketball Championships and a few Utah Jazz exhibition games since its opening in 1996.
What I Like
Use of Event Space: Most college arenas only host their school's basketball teams, but I like how this arena uses it to host a G-League games and high school championships. Utilizing a space for multiple events is always a plus in my book.
Photo Credit: Globe SLC
Plenty of Parking: If you are catching a game here, parking is very accessible. I would dare say that you will never have to worry finding a space close to the arena for an event here.
Attached Amenities: Next to the arena, there are a few extra amenities that are attached. These amenities include a fitness center, weight room, and classrooms for the college. If you are an athlete, you can easily practice on the court and then hit up the weight room to extend your workout.
What I Want
Seating: The seating is your standard plastic pull-out bleachers with some individual seats toward the court's center. I have bad recollections of sitting on those pull-out bleachers when watching my high school basketball and volleyball games. While the individual seats are a nice touch, the other bleacher seats force you to move around every few minutes so you don't get numb. All around, these seats just reduce your satisfaction while watching any event.
Architecture: While I understand that this is a community college arena (therefore less athletics money than a bigger school), the design is nothing special. I am reminded me of my high school arena instead of a college stadium when I see this. On the outside, the arena blends in with the rest of campus looking like another regular classroom building instead of something special.
While I admire that the arena hosts multiple sporting events each year, this one gets a lower grade for a bland design. There is nothing that is unique about the arena, and it does not host major profile events compared to others on this list.
From the Utah Jazz's home to the stadium that hosted 2002's Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Utah has great sports venues to check out. Based on my personal opinion, I have given each stadium a grade. To refresh your memory, here are their grades in descending order below:
- Vivint Smart Home Arena (A+)
- Rice-Eccles Stadium (A)
- The Maverik Center (A-)
- Smith's Ballpark (B+)
- Days of '47 Arena (B)
- Lifetime Activities Center - Bruins Arena (C-)
Whether they have bland designs, or great amenities, each stadium has a place in Utah sports history. If you need a new place to take the family, catch a game, or just admire a cool spot, I hope you are able to find a new place to check out.
Wondering what other stadium grades I have given so far? View my previous list where I looked at five venues in northern Utah.
Also, stay tuned for my new list where I grade five more venues from South Salt Lake to Orem.
“Salt Lake 2002 Overview.” Olympic.org, Meridian Mangement SA for IOC, June 2002, stillmed.olympic.org/Documents/Reports/EN/en_report_456.pdf. This pdf id Issue 21 for the Marketing Matters Olympic Marketing Newsletter.
Nicolaus, Ruth. “Whitaker Makes History with Rodeo's Linderman Award.” TSLN.com, TSLN.com, 6 Jan. 2020, www.tsln.com/horse-rodeo/whitakerlinderman/.
“Lewis Feild.” Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, www.prorodeohalloffame.com/inductees/by-category/all-around/lewis-feild/.
“Ninth Annual Governor's State of Sport Awards April 13.” Utah Sports Commission, Utah Sports Commission, 6 Mar. 2020, utahsportscommission.com/news/ninth-annual-governors-state-of-sport-awards-april-13.
Jewel, Merritt. “Olympic Cauldron Relocated to Make Way for Rice-Eccles Stadium Expansion.” KSL.com, KSL, 14 Feb. 2020, 1:44 PM, www.ksl.com/article/46717744/olympic-cauldron-relocated-to-make-way-for-rice-eccles-stadium-expansion.
University of Utah Athletics. “Lacrosse Home on Saturday vs. Furman.” University of Utah Athletics, University of Utah Athletics, 18 Feb. 2020, utahutes.com/news/2020/2/18/lacrosse-home-on-saturday-vs-furman.aspx.
“American Cities With the Biggest Families.” American Cities With the Biggest Families | Lattice Publishing, Lattice Publishing, 5 Mar. 2020, www.latticepublishing.com/blog/cities-with-the-biggest-families.
“Sensory Room.” Utah Jazz, NBA.com/Jazz, 12 Dec. 2019, www.nba.com/jazz/sensory-room.