David Blitzer, left, MLS commissioner Don Garber, middle, and Ryan Smith at the announcement of new Real Salt Lake ownership. (Real Salt Lake)

Ryan Smith joins Real Salt Lake ownership: What can fans expect?

BYU alumnus and owner of the Utah Jazz Ryan Smith joined the new ownership group for Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake. Smith’s Smith Entertainment Group partnered with David Blitzer to purchase RSL from previous owner Dell Loy Hansen.

Blitzer is the co-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and also holds stakes in a variety of soccer clubs around the world. Smith Entertainment Group includes minority owners Dwyane Wade, former NBA All-Star, and Ryan Sweeney, venture capitalist. The ownership group is completed by Arctos Sports Partners, an institutional investment firm dedicated to minority holdings in sports.

While RSL had a successful season last year when they made it to the Western Conference Finals, the team has been inconsistent recently, leaving room for growth from the new ownership team.

Blitzer and Smith outlined their vision for the organization during an introductory press conference and season ticket holder town hall, but what can fans expect from the new owners?

“Ryan and I are extremely competitive individuals; we want to see RSL win the MLS Cup. That is abundantly clear,” Blitzer said. RSL’s last championship came in 2009.

To facilitate a championship-caliber roster, Smith anticipates a high payroll for the club.

“The Jazz and Sixers are fifth and sixth in the NBA in payroll, so I think our track records are pretty good,” Smith said.

Smith was quick to point out that other than Orlando, Salt Lake is the only market to have two professional teams owned by the same group. While details are still forthcoming, he anticipates a partnership between RSL and the Jazz.

“The most important thing is that the vision is lined up,” Smith said, speaking of his goals for the two organizations.

Community relationship

Blitzer and Smith both spoke passionately about RSL’s fanbase. “Without this fan base, I don’t think either one of us would do this,” Smith said.

Blitzer mentioned his lifelong love of soccer and desire to be an owner at such a successful club.

In addition to facilitating a winning product on the pitch, Blitzer and Smith want to make a difference in the local community. Smith is well-known for providing scholarships for underrepresented community members for every Jazz win and is considering the possibility of expanding the initiative to RSL.

“We will have a massive community presence, whether that is scholarships or something RSL specific,” Smith said.

Some fans brought up the idea of Smith and Blitzer bringing back Utah’s women’s professional soccer team, the Royals. In response Smith said it’s a matter of “when,” not “if,” the team will return.

The Utah Royals began playing in 2018 as part of the National Women’s Soccer League. When RSL first went on sale in late 2020, the Royals were purchased by an ownership group in Kansas City, where the team was relocated and subsequently renamed the Kansas City Current. As part of that sale, the National Women’s Soccer League announced new RSL ownership could bring back the Royals as an expansion team in 2023.

“We’re very excited to bring the Royals back to Utah,” Blitzer said. While he clarified that bringing an expansion team into the fold is a complicated process, he and Smith are hopeful as they begin the necessary discussions.

Other innovations

Many supporter groups across the league, including in Utah, stand for entire soccer matches. To facilitate that passion, some stadiums have implemented safe standing sections, with railings and other designs used in place of seats. When asked about safe standing, Blitzer said he and Smith would like to see that change implemented at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Blitzer also mentioned he talked to head coach Pablo Mastroeni about having RSL do a European tour in the future, along with European teams playing in Utah. Because of Blitzer’s extensive soccer holdings, he is exploring the idea of sharing scouting resources amongst clubs around the world.

Regardless of the specifics, RSL fans were promised renewed momentum for their team.

“David and Ryan represent the future of Major League Soccer,” commissioner Don Garber said. “This is the future of the sport of soccer here in this city.”

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