Real Salt Lake Gets Bought, Finally. And No Surprise, Ryan Smith is one of the New Owners

Joining Smith as lead investor is pro sports-billionaire and Wall Street financier, David Blitzer, along with Arctos Sports Partners, a $3 billion private equity group with ownership stakes in over 20 pro sports franchises in the U.S. and Europe. But what's most surprising, however, is that Utah Jazz minority owner and future NBA Hall of Fame member, Dwyane Wade, is also one of the new owners. Or is it?

Some 16 months after being put on the market by its then owner, Dell Loy Hansen, Real Salt Lake finally has been purchased for what had been rumored for upward of $400 million.

According to the RSL news release distributed earlier this week, the lead investor in the Major League Soccer franchise is David Blitzer, who was named by the MLS as the team's Governor.

According to his profile on Wikipedia, Blitzer is widely know in the professional sports world for his outright or minority investments in such teams as the

  • New Jersey Devils (National Hockey League);
  • Philadelphia 76ers (NBA);
  • Crystal Palace F.C. (English Premier League, soccer);
  • FC Augsburg (Bundesliga, soccer);
  • Waasland-Beveren (Belgian Jupiler Pro League, soccer);
  • Scranton Wilkes/Baare RailRiders (Triple-A International League, baseball); and even
  • Dignitas (an eSports team).

Potentially just as important, however, may be Blitzer's position as Global Head of Tactical Opportunities for Blackstone, a global leader in investment management.

Blitzer has been with Blackstone for over 30 years, which happens to have over $730 billion in Assets Under Management.

David Blitzer interview video with Real Salt Lake downloaded from YouTube 7 January 2021. 

Expanding the Sports Entertainment Group Holdings into Proper Football

Ryan, of course, was the former CEO of Qualtrics, the company he helped co-found that became the world leader in the eXperience Management software marketplace.

Qualtrics was literally on the cusp of going public when Ryan and his board agreed, instead, to be purchased for $8 billion in November 2018.

{NOTE:  It was the then largest price paid for a software company, and according to public pronouncements, the deal coalesced in just a few days.}

Then, if we skim forward just a bit to 2020, life seems to accelerate for Ryan and Ashley Smith starting with his decision to step down as CEO of Qualtrics in July of that year, specifically

  1. October 2020: The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies announce plans to sell the Utah Jazz to an SEG-led investment group for $1.6 billion;
  2. December 2020: NBA approves sale of the Utah Jazz to an SEG-led Ryan Smith;
  3. January 2021: Qualtrics "goes public" in an IPO with Ryan as Chairman, raising $1.55 billion in the process;
  4. April 2021: Dwyane Wade, 3X NBA World Champion and future Hall of Famer, becomes a minority owner of the Utah Jazz;
  5. May 2021: SEG finalizes purchase of The Zone Sports Network from the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies;
  6. December 2021: Danny Ainge named CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball and an executive with Smith Entertainment Group; and now
  7. January 2022: Ryan and Ashley's SEG is named as one of the new owners of Real Salt Lake.
Ryan Smith interview video with Real Salt Lake downloaded from YouTube 7 January 2021. Pictured: Ryan & Ashley Smith of Smith Entertainment Group.}

Arctos Sports Partners and Dwyane Wade – the Other Owners of RSL

In the RSL press release, Real Salt Lake also announced that Arctos Sports Partners had joined Blitzer and SEG as a minority investor in the MLS franchise.

Arctos was formed in 2019 with the specific purpose of investing in professional sports teams globally.

Texas-based Arctos has raised over $3 billion to date and has taken minority ownership positions in over 20 sports franchises to date.

In addition, in April 2021, a separate Arctos Special Purpose Acquisition Company (aka, a SPAC or "Blank Check" company) named Arctos NorthStar Acquisition Corp. raised over $300 million in an Initial Public Officering with the intent of finding an operating company to acquire and take public in a so-called SPAC-Merger.

The most likely candidate? A pro sports franchise.

Then last of all, this little gem dropped one day after the announcement that RSL was being purchased.

On the surface, it might appear that Dwyane Wade had invested separately into the RSL purchase, but I don't think that's the case.

Back in April when it was announced that Wade had become an investor in the Utah Jazz, I do NOT think that was because he bought an ownership stake in the Jazz itself. Nope.

In fact I'm now pretty confident that what actually happened is that Wade bought himself an ownership slice of SEG back in that April time frame, making him an instant partial owner of the Utah Jazz when he did so.

Hence, when SEG became an owner of Real Salt Lake, voilà, so did Dwyane Wade!

If true, it's actually quite clever, because it probably also helps potentially interested investors from having to hit larger minimal "Net Worth" or come up with large cash outlays to become an owner in a sports franchise.

Real Salt Lake interview of Don Garber, Commissioner of Major League Soccer. Video downloaded from YouTube 7 January 2022.

What to Look for in the Years Ahead for Real Salt Lake

To start with, RSL now has a management group with ownership stakes in at least five other professional soccer teams around the globe (between both David Blitzer and Arctos).

Unlike the other three other major pro sports in America – football, basketball, and baseball – not only is soccer "bigger" outside of the U.S. (and its interest is still growing in the country), proper football is also more successful financially OUS (Outside the US).

Additionally, there is this really interesting reality within the world of fútbol that only exists within professional soccer and is not replicated in other pro team sports, and that is something known as Friendlies.

A Friendly is a match (aka, game) between two teams in completely separate leagues, often from different countries, but sometimes from other continents. {NOTE: In some ways a Friendly is similar to a pre-season contest, but since they can be held at virtually any time, they're really not.}

So now imagine that you're the new ownership group of Real Salt Lake and you want to help excite and grow the fan base for your franchise. What might you do knowing a thing or two about Friendlies and also owning at least five other pro soccer franchises around the globe?

Yep, you would make RSL Friendlies a regular part of every season, both in Utah and around the globe.

Add on top of that Smith's ties to XM (aka, eXperience Management) and his grasp on how technology can be used to further engage your Fanatics (and trust me, soccer fans are fanatical), and I think you've got the makings of a very powerful combination.

Clearly, that requires a good product on the pitch.

But as one of only a handful of teams that have won the MLS Cup (and given its promising finish last season), I'm confident in saying that Real Salt Lake is in good hands, both on and off the field.

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