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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Ryan Smith’s Ascension in Sports Ownership: Four Teams in Five Years

  • The new owner of the NHL’s Utah franchise is ascending quickly.
  • Smith broke into sports when he purchased the Jazz in 2020.
Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s deal to take an NHL team out of Arizona and into Utah brought a resolution to one of the messiest franchise situations in the league. It also solidified Ryan Smith’s sports ownership portfolio as one of the fastest-growing in the country. Take a look at his last five years:

  • 2020: Buys the NBA’s Utah Jazz for $1.66 billion
  • 2022: Acquires MLS club Real Salt Lake with David Blitzer for roughly $400 million
  • 2023: Revives the NWSL’s Utah Royals franchise for $2 million, again with Blitzer
  • 2024: Purchases yet-to-be-renamed NHL team for $1.2 billion

“When these things come along, you don’t blink,” Smith said Friday during a press conference in Salt Lake City with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. The 45-year-old billionaire’s sports interests all fall under his company Smith Entertainment Group, which is already starting to stack up nicely against rival heavyweights in the industry, like Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (Rams, Nuggets, Avalanche, Rapids) and Fenway Sports Group (Red Sox, Penguins, Liverpool).

Money Well Spent

In 2002, Smith co-founded the software technology outfit Qualtrics with his brother, father, and one other business partner. That company sold in 2019 for $8 billion, and Smith wasted no time turning his attention to sports, buying the Jazz less than 24 months later.

Smith spent at least $3 billion for his share of the four sports teams he owns all or part of, and already they’re worth roughly $5.5 billion (based on Forbes’s valuations for the Jazz and Real Salt Lake, and recent comparable team sales within the NWSL).

Could There Be More?

Salt Lake City has been talked about as a potential option for MLB expansion, and the city was considered as a temporary landing spot for the A’s before they settled on playing in Sacramento while they wait for a ballpark to be built in Las Vegas. The WNBA is expanding too, but last week Smith admitted he “has a full plate right now,” even though he’s a fan of the W and speaks with commissioner Cathy Englebert often.

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