What Does Utah Jazz New Owner Ryan Smith Bring To The Team?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – In a major shakeup to the state of Utah, Gail Miller, the Chairwoman and owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies announced she is selling the Utah Jazz to Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith. Fans of the team can find relief that Smith intends to keep the franchise in the state, but what else does the new owner offer the Jazz?
Jazz New Owner Brings New Face
First, Smith, 40, brings a younger and more active face to the team. Though Miller has always retained her courtside seat to games, she sits on the far side of the court away from the players. Smith meanwhile has owned courtside seats next to the Jazz bench for several seasons.
His presence between the bench and the scorer’s table highlighted by his signature flat-brimmed hat, has become a staple of Jazz broadcasts. Smith has also appeared in advertising and fundraising campaigns alongside Jazz players over the last several seasons.
Though Miller is far from the NBA’s most reclusive owner, she has been less visually present as the face of the organization than Larry H. Miller was during his time owning the team. The late owner often followed the team into the locker room after games and had infamous spats with players on the roster.
While Gail Miller has had the final say on the team’s operations, including transactions on the roster, she left the decision making to those executives in the team’s front office and was rarely seen during the players’ media engagements.
How Smith chooses to delegate those decision-making responsibilities remains to be seen, but it’s fair to expect that the team’s new owner will have a larger visual presence with the team than fans have seen over the last decade.
A Social Voice For The Jazz
In addition to his visual presence, Smith has a louder voice on social media than the Miller family. Though Smith has a relatively modest Twitter following, the Jazz new owner hasn’t been afraid to engage in conversation on the platform.
After Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen announced his intention to sell the team, Smith hinted at his interest by responding to tweets beckoning him to purchase the franchise.
Additionally, Smith has been engaged in the political conversation that took greater focus during the NBA’s restart in Orlando. As the league focused on empowering voices within the Black community, Smith took it upon himself to help out those members the state of Utah.
Smith announced he would be matching the donations from all of his employees at Qualtrics to Black Lives Matters as well as the NAACP Defense Fund. Furthermore, Smith donated $100,000 of his own money to organizations supporting the Black community.
While Miller has been a willing philanthropist and supporter of several causes throughout her time as team owner, she’s avoided social media where the political discourse has grown increasingly combative.
Smith’s presence on the platform is likely to change the relationship and accessibility between both fans and critics of the team with its new owner.
New Money Pending
Dennis Lindsey, the team’s vice president of basketball operations has always said he had the green light from the Miller family to exceed the NBA’s salary cap. Exceeding the cap comes with a luxury tax penalty which the Miller’s said they would willingly pay if it meant pursuing an NBA championship.
And yet, the Jazz never ventured deep into that territory under the Miller’s ownership. When the time came due to re-sign players like Wesley Matthews and Paul Millsap that could have kept the Jazz in contention, the team chose alternate routes to accomplish their goals.
Now, with long-term contract extensions pending for stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, what leeway does Lindsey have to exceed the cap to build a contender?
Does Smith intend to build a championship team at all costs, a commitment that has proved fruitful for Mark Cuban in Dallas and Joe Lacob in Golden State, or does financial stability reign supreme?
The Role Of Advertising
Smith’s fortune and the Miller’s fortune, two of Utah’s most prominent billionaires have significant differences. The Miller’s bought the team in two moves in 1985 and 1986 for a reported $23 million. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Smith purchased the team’s controlling share, plus ownership of Vivint Arena, the Salt Lake City Stars, and management of the Salt Lake Bees for $1.6 billion.
The Miller’s turned their ownership of the Jazz, several movie theaters, and car dealerships into a multibillion-dollar organization. Meanwhile, Smith made his money as the co-founder of the tech company Qualtrics, which he sold to SAP in 2018 for a reported $8 billion. Smith’s net worth according to Forbes is estimated around $1.3 billion. Miller is valued at $1.9 billion.
The Jazz have long served as a conduit to help advertise and grow the Miller’s many ongoing business ventures. Smith, though still the active CEO of Qualtrics, may not lean so heavily on the team to function as an advertising entity for his company.
For example, as CEO of Qualtrics, Smith purchased the advertising space for the Jazz jersey logo in 2017. However, instead of placing the Qualtrics logo on the Jazz jersey, he used the opportunity to raise money for the “5 for the Fight” campaign supporting cancer research.
The company originally planned to change the patch to the Qualtrics logo after the first year, but Smith decided to continue to use it as an opportunity to raise money for charity after its initial success. To date, the patch has helped raise more than $25 million in the fight against cancer.
Does the Qualtrics logo become synonymous with the Jazz brand like Megaplex theaters and the Larry H. Miller car dealerships have in the state of Utah, or will the Jazz new owner take a different approach?
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