Orem Owlz owner Jeff Katofsky believes pro baseball could still be successful in Utah Valley
As Orem Owlz owner Jeff Katofsky looked out over the ballpark located at UVU that has hosted his team since 2004 on Thursday afternoon, he felt a whirlwind of memories.
He saw the spot down the left-field line that he said is his favorite place to watch a game. He thought about how this was a place where he watched his children grow from being kids to adults.
Mostly, he said, he thought of the friendships he has built over the years.
“There is so much I’m going to remember,” Katofsky said. “I’ve made a lot of friends here. Sundance is my wife’s happy place, so we will be up here a bit because she loves Sundance. My kids had their summers here from when they were 8- and 9-years-old to being in graduate school here. I saw them running around in bat-boy outfits and selling hot dogs or working on the french-fry machine. I’ll remember walking around and shaking hands, seeing the kids running around smiling. That’s what baseball is; that’s what I’m about.”
Even though on Wednesday he officially announced his intentions to move the Owlz to Pueblo, Colorado, Katofsky hopes to make the most of the rest of the time he will spend in Orem — which could be two or three more seasons including the 2018 campaign.
Local baseball fans will be glad to hear that Katofsky believes minor league baseball could still have a place in Utah Valley. Things just didn’t work out as he originally intended for his team.
The Owlz owner explained that when he purchased the team in 2004, he planned to partner the rookie-league team with a big youth baseball program. As time passed, however, there proved to be just too many obstacles.
“We couldn’t get it done for a couple of reasons,” Katofsky said. “There are a lot of politics involved in having youth sports on this field (now UCCU Ballpark) and I understand why the university couldn’t allow that. That was my No. 1 problem from Day 1. That hurt me because that’s what I wanted to do and it was super-important to me.”
He started looking at other places in Utah Valley but baseball relocation rules made some areas more challenging, population presented other obstacles and nothing ever worked out like Katofsky wanted.
He also heard from UVU that at some point in the next couple of decades the ballpark in Orem would come down and be moved to another location, forcing the Owlz to move at that time.
“This wasn’t a forever park for us,” Katofsky said. “There was a point where we wouldn’t be here any more. The relationship with the school has been great. I think if I went to them and said I need another five years longer than I have now, I think we could’ve done that.”
But with land values skyrocketing in the area, the costs became prohibitive for Katofsky to complete his vision. He began the process of looking for a new home — which eventually led him to Pueblo.
He believes this was the right move but he still feels for the dedicated Owlz fans who have supported the team for so long.
“Utah County has been really good to us,” Katofsky said. “It’s not easy. I would tell the fans that we’ve had a great time, let’s have two more great years and I’m sorry and that I hope I see them in Pueblo. People in Orem and in the surrounding areas are going to be hurt because I have a dream and I want to fulfill that dream.”
The Owlz may be preparing to depart but that doesn’t mean pro baseball is done in the area. Katofsky believes the area might have to change its stance on alcohol at a ballpark, however, for it to happen.
“Utah County’s demographics have changed a lot in the 15 years since I’ve been here,” Katofsky said. “I don’t think pro baseball is viable without beer. I think that’s a deal-breaker. There are transplants here who want to have a beer and a hot dog at the ballpark. It’s too big of a deal in baseball.”
He pointed to the revenue statistics, saying that more than 50 percent of the gross revenue of the eight-team Pioneer League teams is from beer sales — and that includes the fact that it is 0 percent for the Owlz.
“You can’t sell beer here at this ballpark because of the university,” Katofsky said. “If someone came in, it would have to be somewhere else.”
The biggest factor in the success of a minor league baseball team is that it has to be financially viable.
“I’ve lost money every year,” Katofsky said. “If I bought uniforms less frequently or we did fewer giveaways, we could be profitable. Not every team does what I do but this isn’t my day job or my source of income so I have the ability to do that. But in the end, it is a business.”