Jazz, Vivint Arena Sold to Ryan Smith After 35 Years Under Miller Family

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2020

Utah Jazz's Joe Ingles, left, Donovan Mitchell (45) and Mike Conley, right, celebrate taking the lead late in the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Kim Raff)
Kim Raff/Associated Press

Gail Miller has agreed to sell the Utah Jazz to Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith.

The team confirmed Vivint Smart Home Arena, the Salt Lake City Stars of the NBA G League, and the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees will be included in the purchase.

Miller issued a statement on the deal:

"I have known Ryan for several years and admire the values by which he and his wife Ashley live their lives. They have such love for and a connection to Utah and this team. Because of our friendship and several high-level conversations over the years, Ryan recently approached our organization to inquire about the possibility of purchasing the Utah Jazz and some of our other sports and entertainment properties. After much soul searching, lengthy discussions and extensive evaluations of our long-term goals, my family and I decided this was the right time to pass our responsibility and cherished stewardship of 35 years to Ryan and Ashley, who share our values and are committed to keeping the team in Utah. We have every confidence they will continue the work we have undertaken and move the team to the next level. Our family remains invested in the success of the Utah Jazz and these businesses, and we will retain a minority interest."

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski noted Smith is a "lifelong Utah resident and Jazz fan" and that he and his wife, Ashley, "have had a longstanding relationship" with the franchise.

The Jazz have been controlled by the Miller family since Larry Miller purchased a 50 percent stake in 1985.

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Gail Miller and Smith held a press conference to discuss the move:

According to Wojnarowski, the transaction is worth more than $1.6 billion. Forbes' Kurt Badenhausen valued the Jazz at $1.55 billion in February, a 9 percent increase from 2019.

Especially for franchises in non-marquee markets, one fear when ownership changes hands is that a new governor could have ambitions of moving the team. Even the Los Angeles Clippers weren't immune to this after their sale to Steve Ballmer, who had to definitively rule out relocating to Seattle.

In January 2017, Miller announced she was placing the Jazz into a legacy trust that would "keep the franchise in Utah for generations."

Selling the Jazz to Smith would mean ending that legacy trust, which was intended to remain within members of the Miller family for years. Miller alleviated any fears that this threatens the long-term aims of the original plan:

"Much attention has been given in recent years to my putting the team in a legacy trust. This was done in connection with my estate plan and with the objective of assuring our loyal Jazz fans that the team would remain in Utah. I am fully persuaded that with this sale, the objectives of the trust will be honored, and the new owners have made the same commitment to keep the team in Utah. This transaction will unlock opportunities that will allow us to continue our stewardship in ways not possible until now. Our mission is and will continue to be to Enrich Lives."

Smith's existing ties to the franchise and region should keep that from becoming an immediate concern as well.

This isn't the same as Howard Schultz selling the Seattle SuperSonics to Clay Bennett and a group of Oklahoma City businessmen. The Sonics' relocation to Oklahoma City was telegraphed from that point forward.

Smith will have big shoes to fill in terms of delivering the kind of success the Jazz have enjoyed since the Millers became involved 35 years ago. The Jazz were Western Conference champions in 1997 and 1998 and made runs to the conference finals in 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2007.

The stability the Millers provided behind the scenes was a critical part in the organization's contending for the playoffs on a regular basis.