February 7, 2023

Tai’s Takes: the Utah Jazz sold for $1.6 billion

Tai Justice

The Utah Jazz were sold to Ryan Smith for $1.6 billion. Yes, you read that right! 1.6 BILLION! This shows that every NBA will be now be sold for over a billion dollars.Let’s get that out of the way quickly, so if you have plans to buy a team, make sure you have that type of money. Secondly, the Jazz changed forever on Oct. 28, 2020, when Smith bought the team. Thirdly, what is the Millers’ lasting legacy at the end of the day? 

The news came down on the 28that the Jazz had been sold. Shocking news, might I add. We’re three years removed from Gail Miller putting the Jazz in a trust to keep them in Utah forever. This news came out of nowhere. There were no rumors the Jazz were up for sale, that something was in the works, nothing. 

Not a peep, so when the news came down the first thing I did was make sure this guy wasn’t going to move the team. I’m sure a lot of Jazz fans had the same reaction. Being a fan of a small-market team, that fear is always in the back of your head. I was relieved when I found out Smith was from Provo, cancelling out any doubt that the team would be moved. There was still a ton of questions to be answered, though. Who is Ryan Smith?

Smith, 42, is a Utah technology CEO whose family founded Qualtrics. The company, based in Provo, is a world leader in customer-survey software. If you’ve taken an online survey, there’s a decent chance it used Qualtrics. He then sold Qualtrics for $8 billion cash. The deal was structured to bring big payouts for stock the Smith family owned as well as to retain management control. That’s all great, and a lot of money, so what does this mean for the Jazz and why does almost everyone view it as a positive for the team?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the Jazz will have a deeper pocket book to work with now that Smith owns the team. In the 35-year tenure of Miller family ownership over the Utah Jazz, they sometimes had a reputation of running the team frugally. There were times where the reputation held, especially in the ‘80s, when the “penny pinching” term gets tossed around in different books like “The Rise of the Utah Jazz” and “To the Brink” that talk about how the Jazz were purchased and how the team was run on a day-to-day basis when John Stockton and Karl Malone were there. Having an owner with more money is always a positive, obviously. The days of not-match-restricted- free-agent offers because of cap concerns are (hopefully) over. 

Smith is also a fan. As a fan, it’s nice to know someone who cares the way you do is running the team. It could be a little uneasy because fans can be irrational at times, but this guy is clearly successful. 

I like Smith also because he’s losing his mind live-tweeting Brigham Young University games while being worth $8 billion. That’s how you know you love sports. 

The Millers brought the Jazz to Utah. The Millers are the reason the Jazz are still in Utah. From all accounts, they are great people and they are the reason why there’s professional basketball in Utah. 

Three years ago, Gail Miller placed the team in a trust so the team could never be moved and then she sells it. How did that happen? COVID-19 happened. 

The pandemic changed the situation. The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies laid off hundreds of employees in April, and in May, LHM Sports and Entertainment let go of 40% of staff. Sports revenue went to zero quickly. 

“I’ve said before that my life has certainly been an unexpected journey, and if 2020 has been anything, it qualifies as another of those unexpected journeys,” Gail Miller said during the press conference announcing the sale. 

Now, why else did the sale happen? The Jazz have financial questions coming up as soon as this offseason. All-Star and 2X Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert is eligible for the supermax, Donovan Mitchell is up for a max extension and Jordan Clarskon is a free agent. 

Plus, the current money on the books already reached over 120 million. The Jazz have their two most important pieces up for big deals. Mitchell will get taken care of, the question comes with what they do with the supermax that Gobert is likely to ask for. 

In 2019, Smith said, “Watching and getting close to the Millers and seeing how they’ve put everything into this, they’re phenomenal stewards over this franchise. I think the world’s waking up and realizing, wow, they’ve done a really good job.”

A new owner can change a franchise forever; good or bad. The early reports are all positive for Smith and deeper pockets and more money gets everyone excited. He still has challenges ahead of him. All that money doesn’t matter if you can’t convince players to come to Utah and also stay in Utah, but for the first time in their franchise history money won’t be a question for the Jazz anymore. 

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