As the three Utah professional soccer teams chug along in various ways on the field, the search for who will overtake ownership of them continues behind the scenes.
Ryan Smith, billionaire co-founder of software company Qualtrics, recently took a tour of Utah Soccer facilities, sources told The Salt Lake Tribune. Smith visited Rio Tinto Stadium and the Zions Bank Real Academy last Thursday, said the sources, who asked not to be identified in order to disclose privileged information.
Real Salt Lake and the Utah Royals FC play their home games at Rio Tinto in Sandy, while the Real Monarchs play at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman. All teams use the academy facility to hold training and film sessions.
Smith’s visit pprovides an indication that he is indeed seriously interested in purchasing Utah Soccer, the holding company that consists of RSL, the Royals and the Monarchs. Smith expressed interest in buying the team on the same day Dell Loy Hansen said he felt disrespected that his players boycotted a home game last month, prompting fans and popular athletes to ask him to sell.
In a reply to someone on Twitter asking him to buy the team, his response was, “I’m in...they got my number."
Smith is one of several parties that have expressed interest in buying Utah Soccer. Others include the Larry H. Miller group, Toronto FC player Jozy Altidore and NFL star JJ Watt. Watt’s wife Kealia is a Utah native and plays for the Chicago Red Stars.
Smith is already involved in Utah professional sports. His company, which sold for $8 billion in November 2018, serves as the jersey sponsor for the Jazz. That deal, which incorporates the 5 For The Fight cancer campaign, was renewed last October for another four years. Smith founded Qualtrics in 2002.
Major League Soccer installed Vivint Arena executive John Kimball to run Utah Soccer on an interim basis while the sale process unfolds. Kimball is a familiar face for RSL because he was involved in bringing the team to Utah. His hiring fueled some speculation that the LHM group was atop the list of suitors for Utah Soccer.
Hansen decided to sell Utah Soccer after allegations of racist behavior surfaced in recent weeks. Other allegations suggest Hansen helped create a toxic work environment at RSL along with his chief business officer, Andy Carroll. Both men are on leaves of absence and currently under investigation by MLS and the National Women’s Soccer League.