Orem Owlz moving to Colorado; Ogden Raptors to lose geographical rival

Tuesday , June 19, 2018 - 11:24 AM1 comment

OREM — After 18 years, the days of minor league baseball in Utah County are numbered.

The Orem Owlz plan to move to Pueblo, Colorado, according to reports from the Pueblo Chieftain and KOAA TV.

Team owner Jeff Katofsky and government officials are expected to announce the move in the Colorado town Wednesday morning. The move is likely to take place within the next few years.

The Owlz — which moved to Provo from Helena, Montana, in 2001 before relocating to Orem in 2005 — are a rookie-ball, Pioneer League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. The Ogden Raptors also play in the Pioneer League.

The reports say community leaders are working with the Owlz owner to bring affiliated minor league baseball to the city and build a new, 2,800-seat, multi-purpose stadium for the ballclub.

The Owlz franchise had plans to build their own stadium in Utah County that never materialized, and instead played at BYU and later partnered with Utah Valley University for a new ballpark on its campus.

Pueblo's population is approximately 110,000 — about 50,000 more than Grand Junction, a western Colorado city that also hosts a Pioneer League team. Pueblo is 45 miles south of Colorado Springs, which will receive a Pioneer League team moving from Helena to start the 2019 season.

The moves will drastically shift the footprint of the league, which in the 1990s had teams as far north and west as Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, Alberta. Now, the league will have three teams in Montana, three in Colorado, and one each in Idaho Falls and Ogden when the move is complete.

In May, reports from KOAA and the Pueblo Chieftain said the team owner had plans to invest $50 million in building new hotels, some restaurants and retail shops in downtown Pueblo near the new stadium. The stadium will be funded by Pueblo County bonds.

The plans are keyed by the county commission, which recently discussed the plan to build a ballpark for an incoming minor-league team on May 21.

In that meeting, county commissioners said they had a promise from the team owner to commit to 20 years in Pueblo, according to the Chieftain.

Since their move to Orem in 2005, the Owlz have played at what is now named UCCU Ballpark at UVU, a 5,000-person capacity facility.

Despite a population larger than Ogden’s — and Utah County more than doubling Weber County’s population — Orem’s home-game attendance has been modest and slipping in recent years.

Pioneer League attendance data shows Orem averaged about 2,800 fans per game for two seasons early in its move to the city.

But while cities like Billings, Montana, and Ogden routinely average more than 3,000 per night in most seasons, Orem has failed to break a 2,400 per-night average in any season since 2011. In 2016 and 2017, attendance dipped to less than 1,600 per game — ranking sixth in the eight-team league.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net, follow him on Twitter @bhein3 and at facebook.com/brettheinwrites.

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