Gail Miller, owner and chairman of the Larry H. Miller group of companies and Utah Jazz, announced today that they have reached definitive agreements to sell a controlling 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 Utah Jazz, says he’s still not sure what kind of owner he’ll be, but he already knows his focus will be on improving the fan and gaming experiences.
Smith, 42, officially joined the Sports Brotherhood after the National Basketball Association approved his $ 1.6 billion purchase of Jazz on Friday. Qualtrics Co-Founder and CEO will provide final decision-making for the team’s business and basketball operations.
The new group of owners also adds Atlassian co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Ryan Sweeney of venture capital firm Accel as minority partners.
In an interview with CNBC Pro’s “A View from the Top,” Smith said he had no plans to go behind the scenes. Unlike other NBA owners, however, running jazz won’t be his full-time occupation. Qualtrics will be spun off from SAP early next year, less than two years after the German software giant took over the company. Smith says he expects it to be “a big company”.
“I think I’ll be practical,” Smith told CNBC’s Alex Sherman. “But we have phenomenal leadership. We have Dennis Lindsey, a world class general manager, and Quin Snyder, who is one of the best coaches in the league. There are some owners who do everything they do full time. And that am not me. ” I’m still very, very deeply involved with Qualtrics. “
Prior to buying the Jazz, Smith said he was researching the purchase of several NBA franchises, including Minnesota Timberwolves. The chatter among sports bankers familiar with the process suggests Timberwolves owner Glenn Taylor is considering keeping the team for the time being.
“There are still a few minority pieces,” Smith said of minor NBA team involvements. “You will see them come around.”
Smith said he had a chat with fellow NBA owners with a tech background, including Mark Cuban, owner of Dallas Mavericks and Steve Ballmer, owner of Los Angeles Clippers, formerly CEO of Microsoft, prior to the purchase. Both are among the most visible team owners at NBA games. Like Cubans and Ballmer, Smith said he planned to continue sitting at court.
“I’ve had a unique view because I’ve spoken to Mark about it five or a few times over the years,” said Smith. “And I’ve met a lot of other owners in the league just because this was my passion. But they gave me different advice. Nobody ever said that you have to do it that way.” Everyone has their own style. “
Smith said he believes his basketball insights will help jazz align better with a technology and social media league.
“I understand basketball,” he said. “I get basketball. I play basketball three days a week. There is the basketball side and the business side. Each one is equally interesting to me. One from an experience standpoint and one from an understanding standpoint.”
When asked what jazz fans can expect from his property, Smith replied, “You will see it. You are already seeing it. You know me – many of them do.”
“I’m just swapping places,” said Smith of the seats in the yard next to previous owner Gail Miller. “But I have to do a paycheck now.”
read this entire CNBC Pro interview with Ryan Smith.
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