Ryan Smith is a basketball junkie. The Qualtrics CEO and cofounder has a court in his Provo, Utah basement, and a half-court inside the front door of the enterprise software firm’s Provo headquarters. Smith is now taking his fandom to the next level, as billionaires are prone to do. He announced plans to buy a majority stake in the Utah Jazz today at a press conference at the Vivint Smart Home Arena where the Jazz play.
Sources confirmed the $1.66 billion purchase price, which is on par with Forbes’ $1.55 billion valuation of the team in February; the value ranked No. 21 among NBA teams. The deal reflects the role market size plays in team sales, with the Brooklyn Nets the last franchise to change hands in a deal last year worth $3.2 billion.
The Jazz deal is the first sale of an NBA franchise since the coronavirus struck and speaks to the strength of the league’s prospects, despite a standoff with China and low 2020 playoff TV ratings. The deal still needs to be formally approved by NBA owners.
“I dreamed of playing for the Jazz and that didn’t work out,” joked Smith, 42, at the press conference. Smith, who is worth $1.3 billion, cashed in days before his company’s scheduled IPO in January 2019 when German software firm SAP acquired Qualtrics for $8 billion in cash. Smith founded the company in 2002 with his brother, Jared, and father Scott. SAP is now planning to spin out Qualtrics via an IPO but retains majority ownership.
Larry and Gail Miller bought the Utah Jazz for $24 million in two parts during 1985 and 1986 and had tremendous success with 27 playoff appearances in 35 years. Larry died in 2009, and Gail transferred the team to a trust in 2017 to ensure it remained in Utah. “I’m fully convinced that the objectives of that trust will be honored,” said Miller, 77, on Wednesday. The Miller family will retain a minority stake in the team.
“We are all in debt to you and the Miller family,” said Smith “We are going to build on that legacy.”
Smith said he’s approached the Miller family multiple times previously about buying the Jazz. Qualtrics has been a team partner since 2017 when the NBA introduced its “patch” program, which gives companies a chance to market themselves on a 2 1/2 inch square piece of real estate on player jerseys. But instead of pushing the brand of his enterprise software company, Smith marketed Qualtrics’ philanthropic arm, 5 For The Fight, which asks people to donate $5 in the fight against cancer.
“The board said ‘Ryan, you have brought some crazy stuff to us, but this is the craziest thing yet,’’’ Smith told Forbes last month discussing the impact of the sponsorship.
It was and remains after a three-year renewal last year, the only cause-related jersey patch deal in the NBA. The program has raised more than $25 million for cancer research and last month announced nine new cancer researchers in conjunction with the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.