The Utah Jazz NBA team has a new owner. Yeah, he’s a young tech billionaire with money to burn, but his motives seem a little different than those of other mega-rich owners straight out of central casting who scoop up pro franchises because they can.
Ryan Smith, 42, appears to be a little different. He grew up in Salt Lake City, as a huge fan of the Jazz, so this deal feels more like a passion project than a billionaire snapping up a shiny new toy. This is a dream come true for Smith, and Jazz fans will benefit from having a committed owner who has invested sweat and tears into the team along with the $1.66 billion he plunked down for the club.
The sale officially closed Friday, after the other NBA owners approved the deal Thursday. Now Smith can go from being one of the franchise’s biggest fans to its owner. As he told USA Today Sports, “it’s a dream come true for the hometown kid. Adam (Silver, the NBA commissioner) told me straight up when we called him. He said, ‘Ryan, you’re fortunate enough in life to be part of the NBA in some capacity, and that is pretty incredible. But there’s not many people in the world who get a chance to do this with their team.’ Truly that’s how I feel. It’s one thing to be a part of a team. To be able take over your team you grew up watching and cheering for, that’s not normal.”
Smith made his fortune from a company called Qualtrics, an online survey software company. He launched it in 2002 with his dad, his brother and a friend. In 2018 they sold the company to SAP for a cool $8 billion. Smith remains CEO of the company, which is expected to go public in early 2021.
He considered buying other teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, but when the opportunity came along to purchase the team he grew up watching, it was a no-brainer. Smith hopes he can transfer some of his business success to a team that’s never won an NBA title. “Utah’s given me everything,” he said. “We were told we couldn’t build a tech company out of Utah, that we had to go to Silicon Valley. When I was taking venture capital in 2011, half the venture capitalists wanted us to move out of Utah. We’ve shown that we can win in Utah. That’s pretty exciting.”