No NFL, no MLB, no problem. That’s what we say here in Utah while we watch some of the best college and pro teams in the country week in and week out. Whether you’re seeing the Jazz in the heart of downtown Salt Lake, taking in an authentic soccer crowd with Real Salt Lake or checking out any number of our top ranked college teams, it’s tough to have a bad time, win or lose. Whether you’re in town for a week or a while, it’s worth it to check out Utah’s vibrant sports scenes and get to know the state while you’re at it.
Utah has plenty of amazing sports teams, but only one of them boasts murals on every corner and streets named after retired players in downtown Salt Lake. The Utah Jazz are the heartbeat of Utah sports, and for plenty of good reasons. They were the state’s only pro sports team for decades until Real Salt Lake rolled into town in 2005, and many a Utahn has had some of their finest memories watching Utah Jazz basketball. From legends like John Stockton and Karl Malone to recent All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, there has been plenty of epic hooping and alley-ooping to go around.
Utahns stick with the Jazz through thick and thin (and Michael Jordan documentaries that reopen old wounds), and whether the team is rebuilding or riding high, catching a Jazz game is one of the most fun things to do in Salt Lake City. And in the playoffs? Forget it. It’s hard to match the energy of a playoff crowd at Vivint Arena, even if you’re not a full time fan. Just don’t let anyone catch you saying Jordan didn’t push off. He did.
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Real Salt Lake
Wondering why Utah doesn’t have a professional football team? Then you’re not paying attention, obviously. We do have a professional football team, and they were just two points away from making it to the Big Game in 2021. Oh, wait, you mean American football? Why didn’t you say so?
Real Salt Lake, or RSL to the locals, is Utah’s Major League Soccer team and Utah’s second biggest pro sports team. The team might not have the road name downtown, but it does have one championship, which is 100% more than the Jazz have. Sorry, someone had to say it.
The drive to Rio Tinto Stadium might not feel like much, but once the game kicks off you’ll feel like you hopped off the exit straight to a London Premiere League Game (just make sure you drive on the right side of the road). If you’ve never made it to an MLS game, you may be surprised at how well us Yanks have managed to adopt the raucous atmosphere of an international soccer game. Spend a game with die hard fans singing, chanting and hollering non-stop and they’ll have to call you Ted Lasso, cause you’ve learned to love soccer after all.
Rugby. It’s not soccer, it’s not football, but most of all — it’s not messing around. If you’ve never been to a rugby game before, be sure to head to Zions Bank Stadium and watch the Utah Warriors go head to head with their Major League Rugby competition. Whether you’re familiar with the game or not, rugby games are a famously good time, and Warriors games are no exception.
In fact, rugby games might even be more fun for newbies. You’ll ask yourself, why are they all lifting those two guys? How come they can just kick it whenever they want? Why is it called a try if he succeeded in scoring? You’ll have fun figuring it all out, and once you do you’ll realize that you’re watching one of the most unique and interesting games in the world. It’s got all the nuance and pacing of soccer and the hard hits and big plays of (American) football.
And Warriors games in particular are a rollicking good time. Warriors Nation has proven itself as one of the best fanbases in the MLR, with league leading attendance numbers and multiple sellout home games per year. Head down to Herriman to get in on the party and fall in love with a new sport at the same time.
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Minor League Sports
Salt Lake Bees
On summer nights you’ll find South Salt Lake abuzz with energy as the hometown crowd gets ready to cheer on the Salt Lake Bees, Utah’s minor league baseball team. Bees games are perfect for a family adventure or a night out with friends, and even the most sports-averse will enjoy sitting outside in one of the country’s most scenic ballparks.
The Bees are a Triple-A team in the Pacific League and a Minor League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. That means you’ll see the highest level of competition outside of Major League Baseball, and might even catch a future star or an injured MLB legend. Want to get in on the baseball talk but don’t know a pitcher from a belly itcher? Just talk about how good Mike Trout is (he’s the guy on the side of the building). If not, there’s plenty of peanuts, Cracker Jacks and other fun to go around.
Think there are no Grizzlies in the Wasatch Front? Well then how do you explain the ones that stalk the Maverick Center in West Valley? And Utah Grizzlies don’t hibernate for the winter either — they’re hitting the ice and putting on a show from October through April.
The Grizzlies are Utah’s minor league hockey team, an ECHL affiliate of the 2022 Stanley Cup winning Colorado Avalanche. Utah Grizzlies hockey games are filled with fast paced play and all the promotions, fan games and fun you’d expect from a minor league game. They’re a great night out for the whole family, but don’t get to thinking it’s all Boy Scout troops and birthday parties. Grizzlies fans are some of the most dedicated fans in the state for any sport or level. You’ll arrive a Friday night reveler and leave a Forever Fan. As long as you bring an extra layer. Otherwise you’ll just leave cold.
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Utah Utes Football
No, Utah doesn’t have an NFL team, but step into Rice-Eccles Stadium and you’ll hardly know the difference. In fact, you might be glad you’re watching college ball instead. The University of Utah Utes deliver one of the most electric college football atmospheres this side of the Mississippi, and game days are certainly not to be missed.
You won’t be going to a game just for the experience, either — you’ll also see some of the best football in the country while you’re there. A perennial Associated Press Top-25 team and a regular contender for the College Football Playoff, the Utes give their die-hard fans something to cheer about week in and week out. If you have to choose one game to attend, plenty of folks will tell you to catch a Pac-12 rival like USC, UCLA or Oregon. But the Utah thing to do would be to catch the Holy War, the rivalry game between the Utes and the BYU Cougars. The teams are in different conferences nowadays, but they usually make a point to play each other every year. Pick a side, any side — just don’t forget the face paint.
BYU Cougars Football
Speaking of the Cougars, Brigham Young University’s football team brings just the same energy (maybe even more) as its public school counterpart. Leave Salt Lake County heading south and you’ll slowly watch those Ute-red flags and bumper decals turn Cougar blue. (Hang at Point of the Mountain and you’ll experience a nice neutral purple.)
When the stars align (and they usually do) Utah boasts two of the top teams in the country just an hour apart. Not many places can say that, and if you think that only the Salt Lake crowds can get rowdy, think again. The fans down in Provo will make you see the stereotypically buttoned-up Utah Country in a whole new light as they scream themselves hoarse cheering on their Cougars. Add in the fact that a BYU game day experience involves watching a game beneath the shadow of a snow capped Mount Timpanogos, and Cougars games are some of the best sporting events in Utah.
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Utah State Aggies Football
Did you forget about the Utah State Aggies? Go to a game and your eardrums will remind you pretty quick. Heck, if you were in Logan Canyon you could probably hear the game day crowd. The Aggies might not be in the same tier of Division I as BYU and the University of Utah, but they’ve got one of the best student sections in the country. And that’s not coming from their PR, it’s coming from ESPN.
Utah State’s rowdy student section, the HURD, is just part of the school’s game day charm. The rest comes from scenic and backdrop the school’s on-field talent. The Aggies have won the Mountain West Conference championship as recently as 2021, and even if you catch them in a down year, the surrounding area is so pretty you won’t mind sitting through a beatdown. It’s hard to find a bad time of year to visit Logan, so whether you’re catching an early season game in the sun, a chilly autumn clash or a snowy slugfest, there’s no wrong way to watch.
Utah Red Rocks
Utah is a unique place, and it’s only fitting that our sports teams follow suit. Sure other states have “professional football,” but how often does a school pack the house for their women’s gymnastics team? That’s what the University of Utah Red Rocks have been doing for decades, and they don’t show any signs of stopping soon. Red Rocks meets are some of the most high energy sporting events in the state. They’re a perfect place to bring the whole family, try something new and realize you should start stretching again.
Still not sold on watching a gymnastics meet? Check out the Red Rocks’ national records and you’ll sing a different tune. They’re tied with Georgia for the most national championships by any Division 1 school with a whopping ten wins, including five in a row from 1982 to 1986. They’ve qualified for the ‘ship every season since 1976, and they’re the only team to do so. “High energy” was probably an understatement by the way — the Red Rocks average more than 14,000 fans per meet.
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