Some cry foul as Salt Lake County steps in to help Jazz pay for NBA All-Star Game
The Utah Jazz will get a half-million dollar helping hand to stage the 2023 NBA All-Star Game after Salt Lake County officials redirected public money to the effort.
In return for the contribution, approved last month in a 5-3 county council vote, the county will receive a set of community engagement events associated with this assemblage of the league’s brightest stars.
“This is an opportunity to inspire the youth of our community,” Mayor Jenny Wilson said in an interview. “This is an opportunity to show our condition.
Fans say the expense is a safe bet for the county, as revenue from the All-Star Game at Vivint Arena and related events on the Feb. 18-19 weekend will far exceed the investment.
Opponents, however, soured on the idea of funding a wealthy company’s private enterprise and said the money would be better spent elsewhere.
The $500,000 county officials are reallocating was collected through a room tax that visitors pay when they stay in hotels.
The money was originally earmarked for a homestay program at Salt Lake Community College, but became available after the program proved unpopular and the school returned the unspent funds.
Wilson said the Jazz approached County for the money.
What could the county get?
The mayor told council members that the investment would help those who cannot afford an expensive All-Star Game ticket to join in the festivities.
County officials have discussed hosting a reading program — complete with appearances by NBA mascots — that could give kids the chance to win prizes like stickers, merchandise or tickets to more events. little ones during All-Star weekend.
The county also hopes to invest in youth basketball games at the Salt Palace Convention Center, pay former NBA players to perform at a county-owned recreation facility, and create art installations that would free to the public.
Team president Jim Olson told council members that community engagement programs would consume $165,000 of the county’s contribution. The remaining $335,000 would be for the team to use for the global tab for hosting the game.
It’s unclear whether the $165,000 listed by Olson includes the cost of an “exclusive All-Star hospitality experience” for county council members and officers. This possible event was the only idea listed in the agenda backup documents that was not discussed at the meeting.
Wilson said none of the community engagement ideas have been finalized.
“Nothing at this point,” she said, “is set in stone.”
Wilson said the proposed hospitality event would not be an opportunity for parties to drink and dine with elected officials and that such an event would be inappropriate. But part of being in a leadership role, she said, is accommodation.
“There will be people coming into the county who will be part of the games that we would want to engage with,” she said. “…I don’t see that as a negative if it’s done in the right way and for the right reasons.”
Jazz spokesman Frank Zang said the team has been in talks with the county, state and Salt Lake City since 2019, when the league announced the Utah capital would host the game. .
Now that county funding has been approved, Zang said community engagement ideas could be fleshed out.
“We appreciate the support of (Salt Lake) County in helping to bring this signature NBA event to our community for the first time in 30 years,” Zang wrote in an email, “so that a new generation can experience it.”
Proposal faces opposition
The three council members who voted against the funding — Republicans Richard Snelgrove, Dea Theodore and Dave Alvord — questioned whether supporting the All-Star Game was the best use of county money.
“To me,” Theodore said at the meeting, “it seems a bit elitist in some ways to put money into this when people are struggling and the county is potentially putting so much money into basketball.”
Snelgrove said he wanted to look at how council tax money could be spent on existing budget items to avoid tax hikes in the future.
And Alvord has doubts about whether contributing to the overall cost of staging the game meets the intent of the law that governs how room taxes can be spent. (The county says the expenses are mostly for marketing and are above board.)
The council member said he would have offered to give the team $165,000 to pay for community engagement events alone, but he was unable to officially propose the idea under the rules of the advice.
“I was not comfortable handing over a blank check,” Alvord wrote in a text message.
The resort tax that the county reallocated is limited to promoting the community. Alvord said he didn’t think the team had a good enough explanation for how they would use the extra money.
Publicly backed on the promise of a big payout
Rusty Cannon, president of the business-backed Utah Taxpayers Association, called the council’s decision a reasonable and prudent use of tourist tax money.
“As far as we can tell, no host NBA team has ever made a profit from hosting the All Star Game,” Cannon wrote in an email. “The rewards and benefits actually accrue to the host city and surrounding areas who collect a large amount of increased sales tax, (room) tax and related economic activity from the event and those who come to the event.”
The county’s funding approval is just the latest contribution of public funds to the organization of the event.
The state contributed $3 million through the Utah Athletic Commission, and Salt Lake City set aside $1 million for public safety staffing, street blocking and marketing.
Governments tend to be eager to help fund major events like the All-Star Game due to the expectation of massive economic fallout.
Olson, Jazz’s president, said the 2022 All-Star Game and its associated events in Cleveland drew 121,000 attendees, the equivalent of 47,000 room nights, $250 million in spend, and generated media coverage of approximately $50 million.
He said he expects Salt Lake City’s game benefits to last for years.
“Everyone who comes to Utah comes back,” Olson said. “It’s who we are. That’s what we have to offer.
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