Ryan Smith — who owns the NBA’s Utah Jazz, and shares in MLS’ Real Salt Lake and the NWSL’s resurrected Utah Royals — has made no secret of his desire to bring another professional sports franchise to Utah.
And now, according to a report, there’s a major sports league keeping a keen eye on the Qualtrics co-founder.
According to a sourced report from Elliotte Freedman of Canada’s SportsNet, Smith had dinner this past Tuesday night with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman following an NBA Board of Governors meeting in New York.
Freedman noted that Smith had been rumored as a potential purchaser when the Pittsburgh Penguins were up for sale in 2021, though the iconic franchise was ultimately bought by the Fenway Sports Group.
Smith’s intrigue in professional hockey has apparently not waned, though, and the feeling is apparently being reciprocated to some degree.
“I was told to keep his name on my radar, because he’s interested in the NHL — and the NHL is very interested in him,” Freedman wrote.
He added that Salt Lake City’s status as the favorite to host the 2030 Winter Olympics could potentially lead to expenditures for new venues — including, potentially, “a future home for the NBA team and an NHL brother.”
A new venue might be necessary to host an NHL team, given Vivint Arena’s shortcomings as a hockey home.
This past August, Smith Entertainment Group — the parent company of the Jazz, and which also holds ownership stakes in RSL, the Royals, and Vivint Arena — brought added private equity firm Arctos Sports Partners as a minority investor, with express intent of bringing another pro sports team to Utah.
“As SEG continues to build out the professional sports landscape in the state, the Arctos partnership brings strong commitment to Utah sports and a deep connection across all major sports leagues,” Smith said in a statement at the time.
An SEG source said then that the team would be in a unique sport, one that Utah does not currently have. With the implication that discussions have been centered on the four major North American sports leagues, that would seemingly put the options down to the NFL, MLB, and NHL.
There are a variety of factors to consider, but hockey might make the most logistical sense.
When the NHL has staged preseason exhibition games at Vivint Arena, usually featuring the Los Angeles Kings, they have been well-attended.
While league expansion may be unlikely, relocation of an existing franchise could be an option, with each of the Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers, and New York Islanders all apparently suffering some degree of financial woes and attendance problems.