Ryan Smith, co-founder of Qualtrics, joins the NBA membership after shopping for the Utah Jazz


Ryan Smith, Qualtrics Co-Founder and CEO, takes to the stage during the 2015 Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland.

Clodagh Kilcoyne | Getty Images

Values, transparency and a doer.

These are the early labels that people who know him use to describe upcoming National Basketball Association owner Ryan Smith. The co-founder of the technology company Qualtrics agreed to buy the NBA's Utah Jazz, the team announced on Wednesday.

Smith will reportedly pay around $ 1.6 billion to acquire the Jazz, but CNBC has yet to confirm the exact terms. Current owners, the Miller family, bought the team in 1985 for $ 22 million.

Gail Miller, owner and chairman of the Larry H. Miller Group (LHM Group), which runs the jazz, said Smith reached out to the family to inquire about the sale and, after "much soul searching," agreed.

"My family and I decided this was the right time to pass on our responsibilities and the cherished 35 years of responsibility to Ryan and Ashley, who share our values ​​and are committed to keeping the team in Utah," said Miller in a statement. "We are confident that they will continue the work we have done and take the team to the next level. Our family remains invested in the success of Utah Jazz and these companies, and we will keep a minority stake."

Upon completion, which must be approved by the league's board of governors, Smith will become the NBA governor of Jazz. "He will have final decision-making authority on all business and basketball operations relating to the team and other assets contained in this transaction."

Smith is also expected to acquire local radio station The Zone Sports Network, which broadcasts jazz games, in a separate agreement with the LHM Group.

"The Miller family has made an incredible impact on countless people through Utah Jazz and the other organizations they run," Smith said in a statement. "We all owe a great debt to the Miller family for the amazing responsibility they have had for this estate over the past 35 years. My wife and I are utterly humble and excited about the opportunity to lead the team far into the future – especially." with the biggest fans in the NBA. "

The new guy in the NBA

Smith, 38, is from Utah and best known in the corporate world for co-founding the technology company Qualtrics in 2002.

The company specializes in online survey research and cloud space, and its competitor is SurveyMonkey. The company was sold to technology company SAP for $ 8 billion in 2018, days before it went public.

In a 2013 interview with the New York Times, Smith pointed to transparency as one of the foundations of the company and credited his parents for instilling in him a "If you want it, you have to get out there and get it" attitude.

Smith said, "I remember when I was 13 my mom took me to downtown Provo one summer about two miles from where we live and said," You all are paying for your clothes this year. Come not home until you have jobs. "They gave us the idea that you can be anything you want to be, but you will have to be."

Smith also helped finalize the NBA jersey patch deal with the Jazz in 2017. He added a logo for "5 For The Fight," a charity that solicits US $ 5 donations to help fight cancer. The deal brings in roughly $ 4 million per season.

Married and father of four, Smith revealed more about his personal side in an interview with CNN. He told the outlet that he loves to visit New York City to unplug it and is a Twitter junkie.

"I get my messages on Twitter," he said. "I refer to it and the ESPN app at least 15 times a day."

Once the deal is approved, Smith will join a growing list of NBA owners with tech roots, including Joseph Tsai, owner of Brooklyn Nets, who co-founded Chinese tech giant Alibaba. Mark Cuban, owner of Dallas Mavericks, who sold his start-up to Yahoo for billions in 1999; Joe Lacob, co-owner of Golden State Warriors, a former venture capitalist who invested in technology companies; Steve Ballmer, owner of L.A. Clippers, former CEO of Microsoft; Vivek Ranadivé, owner of Sacramento Kings, who founded Tibco Software; and Ted Leonsis, owner of Washington Wizards, former AOL executive and tech investor.

Members of the Utah Jazz celebrate a win against the Denver Nuggets after the fourth game of the first round of the Western Conference during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 23, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images

No wonder on Wall Street

The Jazz sale may come as a surprise to some, but deals like this were discussed in the early days of Covid-19 by sports bankers who predicted senior owners could try to pay off at all-time highs with team ratings, especially in the larger NBA markets.

Alibaba co-founder Tsai paid $ 2.3 billion for the Brooklyn Nets in 2019, and restaurant entrepreneur Tillman Fertitta paid $ 2.2 billion for the Houston Rockets in 2017.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are also up for sale right now, and rumor has it that the Portland Trail Blazers could be the next following the death of owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2018, though executives with the team downplay that notion.

Once the deal is approved, Smith will become one of the youngest major owners in the NBA, joining Peter Holt Jr., 34, of San Antonio and Robert Pera, 42, the owner of Memphis Grizzles.

The Grizzlies are another team buzzing around in investment circles as bankers oversee whether the team is moving or being sold due to financial stress.

For example, if the Grizzles move to Seattle, where a partially new building is being built by Oak View Group, NBA owners would benefit from moving fees and get back some of the money lost to Covid-19. NBA owners could also make money from expansion, a move that sports investors are predicting with Las Vegas as a destination as well.

Some sports owners are in particular financial distress as the pandemic affects their external cash flows as well.

The LHM Group also operates automotive, finance, real estate businesses and owns 16 megaplex theaters. The film industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic as most cinemas across the country are still closed.


Katherine Clark