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Economic boost may follow Utah, BYU conference realignment

By Andrew Adams | Posted - Jul. 1, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Friday marked the University of Utah's first day in the Pac-12 and BYU's first as a football independent, but already state business leaders are salivating over the potential economic impact of both moves.

For them, it's all about exposure, exposure, exposure.

"The more often people can see the mountains that surround our city and can see our ever-changing skyline, the better that is for us," Salt Lake Chamber spokesman Marty Carpenter said.

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Mountains should be a frequent backdrop on national football telecasts, with the Utes' new Pac-12 deal. It will be worth $21 million per year for the University of Utah, beginning in 2014 when the Utes get their first full share of TV money.

The Cougars' trail to fame and glory will also be well-documented -- already seven announced ESPN network broadcasts in 2011 and counting.

Lew Cramer, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, said that will make a difference even outside the United States.

"What we're trying to do is make Utah a globalized state, and having our athletic teams -- which are one of the greatest ambassadors for the state out there so vividly -- is huge for us," Cramer said.

Those that sell businesses on relocating or expanding in Utah are also optimistic about what the new Pac-12 arrangement will do for their pitches.

"We're going to be able to continue to attract great researchers here," said Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. "Things are going well with the USTAR (Utah Science Technology and Research) initiative, and on the economic development side, we're just going to continue to build on this momentum."

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At least one senior economist at the University of Utah is tempering optimism as it exists away from campus. Bureau of Economic and Business Research director Jim Wood said it's clear the impact will be significant for the Ute athletic program and it will make a difference for the school in general, but it the significance will be less discernible elsewhere.

Wood said he suspected the Pac-12 exposure may make a slight difference in the state's $100 billion economy.

"It's going to be very difficult to measure the impacts on the state and, in all likelihood, they'll be quite small," he said.

Business leaders aren't backing down from their positions about the collegiate realignment being a major boon to Utah. Carpenter pointed to the Pac-12 fan bases that travel in larger numbers than those seen in the Mountain West Conference. "These are people who are going to fly in and spend the time in the hotels, and that means more money for the local economy," Carpenter said.

Wood dismissed the idea of fan bases making an impact, noting that Ute fans would likely be taking more of their dollars out of state with more alluring Pac-12 venues in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Seattle.

Merchandising might be the source of the most immediate impact at local stores. Friday, many among the hundreds of Ute fans that turned out to the Utah State Capitol seemed ready and eager to buy the latest merchandise.

Email: aadams@ksl.com

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Andrew Adams

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