Gail Miller, owner and chairman of the Larry H. Miller and Utah Jazz group of companies, announced today that they have reached final agreements to sell a majority stake in Utah Jazz and other sports to technology entrepreneur Ryan Smith.
Melissa Majchrzak | National Basketball Association | Getty Images
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Ryan Smith, the new owner of Jazz in Utah, says he’s still not sure what kind of owner he will be, but he already knows he’ll focus on improving the experiences of fans and players.
Smith, 42, officially joined the sports fraternity after the National Basketball Association approved a $ 1.6 billion purchase of Jazz on Friday. The co-founder and CEO of Qualtrics will take over the final decisions for business operations and basketball for the team.
The new group of owners also adds Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and Ryan Sweeney of venture capital firm Accel as minority partners.
In an interview for CNBC Pro’s “A Top View,” Smith said he did not intend to stay behind the scenes. However, unlike other NBA owners, Jazz’s leadership will not be his full-time job. Qualtrics split from SAP early next year, less than two years after German software giant acquired the company. Smith says he expects it to be “a big company.”
“I think I’ll be on my hands,” Smith told CNBC’s Alex Sherman. “But we have phenomenal leadership. We have Dennis Lindsey, the world-class general manager, and Quin Snyder, who is one of the best coaches in the league. There are some owners who do that all the time. And I’m not yet. very, very involved in Qualtrics. “
Before buying Jazz, Smith said he explored the purchase of several NBA franchises, including the Minnesota Timberwolves. Discussions between sports bankers familiar with the process suggest that Timberwolves owner Glenn Taylor is considering keeping the team for the time being.
“There are a few minority pieces that are still there,” Smith said of the NBA’s lower stakes. – You’ll see them coming.
Smith said he spoke with other tech-savvy NBA owners before making the purchase, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, a former Microsoft CEO. Both are among the most visible team owners at NBA games. Like Cuban and Ballmer, Smith said he intends to continue to court.
“I had a unique vision because I’ve talked to Mark five different times, or a few times over the years,” Smith said. “And I got to know a lot of the other owners in the league already just because that was my passion. But they gave me different advice. Nobody ever specifically said that’s how you have to do it. Everyone has their own style.”
Smith said he feels his perspective on basketball will help Jazz better align with a technology-based and social media-based league.
“I understand basketball,” he said. “I get basketball. I play basketball three days a week. There’s the basketball side and the business side. Everyone is just as interesting to me. One in terms of experience and one in terms of understanding.”
Asked what Jazz fans might expect from his property, Smith said, “They’ll see it. They already see it. I know myself – many of them do.”
“All I do is change seats,” Smith said of backyard chairs next to former owner Gail Miller. “But I have to make salaries now.”
read the entire CNBC Pro interview with Ryan Smith.
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