Ryan Smith is known as one of Utah’s leading entrepreneurs, having co-founded Orem-based Qualtrics in 2002. Qualtrics sold to European software company SAP for $8 billion in 2018.
On Wednesday, the 42-year-old Smith became known around the sports world as the new majority owner of the Utah Jazz.
Smith is a sports fan who has been a major donor for BYU sports – his alma mater — and most recently partnered with the Jazz in the “5 For The Fight” jersey patch that has raised over $25 million for cancer research.
At a virtual news conference from Vivint Smart Home Arena, Smith accepted the new role handed to him from Gail Miller, current owner and chair of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.
“Gail, we couldn’t be more humbled,” Smith said. “We couldn’t be more honored with your trust. Your 35-year stewardship and legacy is one I believe that as Utahns we’re all in debt to you and the Miller family. Our commitment is we are going to build on that legacy. We couldn’t be more grateful for you and all you do is good. That’s what the Miller family does. Being able to be a conduit to help that continue and then to continue to have you as a minority owner of the Jazz is an incredible opportunity.”
Miller announced they have entered into definitive agreements to sell a majority interest in the Utah Jazz and other sports and entertainment properties to Smith. Included in the pending transaction are the Utah Jazz, Vivint Arena, the National Basketball Association (NBA) G League Salt Lake City Stars, and management of the Triple-A baseball affiliate Salt Lake Bees.
“I have known Ryan for several years and admire the values by which he and his wife Ashley live their lives,” Gail Miller said. “They have such love for and a connection to Utah and this team. Because of our friendship and several high-level conversations over the years, Ryan recently approached our organization to inquire about the possibility of purchasing the Utah Jazz and some of our other sports and entertainment properties. After much soul searching, lengthy discussions and extensive evaluations of our long-term goals, my family and I decided this was the right time to pass our responsibility and cherished stewardship of 35 years to Ryan and Ashley, who share our values and are committed to keeping the team in Utah.”
The Millers recently created a Legacy Trust to keep the Jazz in Utah and Miller said she believes the Smiths will honor that idea.
“We have every confidence they will continue the work we have undertaken and move the team to the next level,” Miller said. “Our family remains invested in the success of the Utah Jazz and these businesses, and we will retain a minority interest.”
Smith said he has approached the Millers several times about purchasing the Jazz.
“It’s no secret about my interest in the NBA, and there’s really no secret about my interest in the Jazz,” Smith said. “I grew up watching the Jazz. This is the team I’ve cheered for. I’ve played Junior Jazz. I dreamed about playing for the Jazz but that didn’t work out. But as I was sitting there this week with my kids in the Junior Jazz program that you guys started with hundreds of kids running around, the legacy you’ve created is untouchable. We’re all just incredibly grateful for that.
“The Jazz are a gift to this whole community and that’s 100 percent how we view it. We look to use this platform to continue to do good.”
Ashley Smith added: “We love basketball, we love the Jazz, and we really love Utah. We are blown away and honored that we get to share this experience with Utah and Jazz Nation.”
The NBA Board of Governors is expected to approve the deal sometime around the first of the year.
Larry and Gail Miller bought 50 percent of the Jazz in May 1985 for $8 million, then bought the remaining 50 percent the following year for $14 million. Forbes, in its annual valuation of franchises, said the Jazz were worth $1.55 billion earlier this year.
Smith will become the NBA Governor of the Utah Jazz and its affiliates, and he will have final decision-making authority for all business and basketball operations related to the team and other assets included in this transaction. Steve Starks, in addition to his role as chief executive officer for the LHM Group, will be an advisor, according to a news release from the Jazz.