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Sports | Flash in the Pan: Is there a market for more professional basketball in Utah?


Just how much of a “basketball jones” do local hoops fans have? We’ll find out this winter when, in addition to the usual menu of one NBA franchise and three NCAA Division I programs in the relatively short distance between Salt Lake City and Provo, the Orem-based Utah Flash have been added to the array of options. Was there such an overflow of fandom that the market for live basketball viewing opportunities needed to be expanded?

The Flash is/are—the team name raises the same problems as “Jazz”; do the players collectively make up one large Flash or is each individual a Flash unto himself?—part of the NBA’s Development League, also known as the D-League, which acts as a sort of farm system for the NBA. The Orem franchise is affiliated with the Jazz and Boston Celtics, which means those teams can take players who are otherwise languishing on the inactive list—that’s not the same as the one compiled by a Mormon bishopric—and get them some high-level experience while keeping in game shape. The other guys who fill out the roster have contracts with the D-League rather than the Jazz or Flash and are trying to get noticed by NBA teams.

I went to a Flash game recently, and it had the two things I’m looking for at any minor-league sporting event: cheap tickets and a chance to see guys who might one day play at the next level. The cheapest tickets at McKay Events Center, at $7 a pop, got me as close to the court as 10 times as much money would have at a Jazz game, and the Flash also get bonus points for not charging for parking. Jazz rookies Kyrylo Fesenko and Morris Almond both played plenty of minutes and showed that they may develop into guys who can make a regular contribution to the Salt Lake team in the next couple of years.

If I lived some place hundreds of miles from the nearest NBA city, and the Flash came to my town, I might be tempted to go see at least a few games a season. But the Flash plays in Orem, which raises the question: Why should I pay $7 to watch Jazz wannabes when 45 minutes up the road I can watch the actual Jazz and get in the building for as little as $10? I enjoy going to Salt Lake Bees baseball games, but if their major league affiliate (the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) were playing just 45 minutes away, I don’t know how often I’d be watching the AAA team.

The Flash business plan seems to be counting on bringing in three groups of fans: 1. those who don’t want to fork over the $49 per ticket it costs to get lower bowl Jazz seats; 2. those who live in Utah County and don’t want to drive up to Salt Lake City on a cold winter night; or 3. Jazz junkies who don’t get enough juice from the 41 home games the team plays.

Are there enough people in those three groups put together to make for a solid fan base that will make the Flash viable? The Orem home opener drew 4,584, not an especially impressive number when compared with two other teams making their debut in the D-League this season. The Fort Wayne (Indiana) Mad Ants drew 7,317, while the Des Moines (Iowa) Energy packed in 8,842 at their openers. Since their debut, the Flash has/have drawn crowds of 3,148, 3,632 and 3,003 to their three subsequent home games. Those are the “announced” attendance numbers; there is a tradition in sports of counting the number of tickets sold rather than the number of people who actually show up. The “announced” crowd for the game I attended last Saturday night was 3,003, but as I looked around at the crowd that appeared to fill considerably less than half of the 6,500 seat arena, it brought to mind the line former Lakers’ announcer Chick Hearn used to trot out whenever he heard the total of an “announced” crowd: “I think a lot of them came dressed as seats.”

Then again, why cast doubt on the vision of Flash owner Brandt Andersen? After all, this is a guy who, while still in college, founded a company that would end up in the eight-figure annual revenue range and who, at the tender age of 30, has already talked legendary architect Frank Gehry into designing a project not in New York or Los Angeles, but in Lehi of all places. Who’s to say he hasn’t seized a golden opportunity that nobody else had the foresight to notice?

Was this a market crying out for yet another professional basketball team? Perhaps not. But as a fan, I’d rather have an excess of hoops on the supply side to meet my demands.

UTAH FLASH: McKay Events Center, Orem
vs. Anaheim; Saturday, Dec. 15
vs. Los Angeles: Friday, Dec. 14 7 p.m.