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Real Salt Lake sale — with Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith involved — is official

SHARE Real Salt Lake sale — with Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith involved — is official
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David Blitzer smiles during a New Jersey Devils NHL hockey press conference in Newark, N.J., Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Blitzer has formed a group of investors to purchase Real Salt Lake. The ownership group includes Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith.

Julio Cortez, Associated Press

The saga of the sale of Real Salt Lake is over.

Major League Soccer announced Wednesday that the sale to private equity investor David Blitzer and Utah Jazz owner and Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith, with Arctos Sports Partners having a minority stake, has been unanimously approved by Major League Soccer’s Board of Governors.

Blitzer will serve as governor for Real Salt Lake, meaning he will have the final voice at league meetings, with Smith Entertainment Group appointed to the alternate governor role.

The transaction includes Real Salt Lake (MLS), Real Monarchs (MLS NEXT Pro), Rio Tinto Stadium and all related soccer assets in both Sandy and Herriman, including the Zions Bank Training Center and Zions Bank Stadium.

Blitzer and Smith also obtain ownership of the RSL Academy and its local and regional youth affiliates.

Sportico’s Eben Novy-Williams had reported the deal Wednesday prior to it becoming official.

Blitzer has built somewhat of a sports empire, as he also is a shareholder in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and multiple soccer clubs in Europe.

Blitzer and Smith become the third ownership group in RSL’s 17-year history.

“The combination of David Blitzer and Ryan Smith’s SEG form a dream partnership for Real Salt Lake,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “David and Ryan’s teams have become synonymous with how athletics and community intersect, as they have demonstrated leading world-class organizations outside of professional soccer.

“Both understand the tremendous value that sports teams bring to a community, and they are deeply committed to Utah. This is a proven ownership group that brings resources and experience to elevate every aspect of the RSL organization.”

Said Blitzer in a statement: “My family and I are thrilled to partner with Ryan Smith and his SEG team on the acquisition of Real Salt Lake. Ryan’s track record with Qualtrics as a technology innovator and leader in the state of Utah made his SEG group the ideal partner. Together, we look forward to leveraging our experiences to take Real Salt Lake to even greater heights.

“Real Salt Lake is a world-class club with an amazing fanbase, strong infrastructure and a longstanding commitment to the Utah community,” he continued. “We will work to build upon the legacy and tradition of Real Salt Lake by investing not only in the team and its facilities, but also in the communities our team serves. We have the opportunity to use Real Salt Lake’s unique platform to drive positive change on the pitch, in the local community and across Utah. We are excited and honored to be a part of what the future holds.”

Added Smith in a statement: “My wife Ashley and I are 100% committed to the state of Utah. As my partners and I looked to expand SEG, it was clear that Real Salt Lake is an amazing asset for Utah, exemplifies the way we want to invest and be involved here, and David Blitzer is the perfect partner.

“David has world-class soccer experience, is a person of integrity, and has a strong commitment to elevate the organizations and communities he is invested in. There is an incredible soccer community here in Utah from youth and outreach programs to the passionate RSL supporters and fans. We look forward to continuing to work with the region and state to do big things with professional sports.”

The finality of the sale ends a long, dramatic process that began in August 2020 when former owner Dell Loy Hansen sharply criticized RSL players on radio for following other athletes around the country by not playing after a shooting by police in Wisconsin of Jacob Blake.

It was to be the first night fans were back at Rio Tinto Stadium after months away because of the pandemic, and Hansen was angry that players decided not to play.

After Hansen was widely criticized for his comments, reports soon surfaced detailing racism and sexism within the RSL organization, some incidents involving Hansen.

Hansen first took a leave of absence, and then formally decided to sell all of the properties that were purchased Wednesday, as well as Utah Royals FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.

URFC was quickly purchased and moved to Kansas City (Hansen had purchased the franchise in 2017 and relocated it to Utah from Kansas City), but the sale of RSL and the other properties became a much lengthier process.

Smith, who purchased the Jazz in October 2020, had been reported to have interest in RSL in the early days of the process but had reportedly backed away before getting involved again.

Despite the turmoil in 2021 of not having an owner and then seeing head coach Freddy Juarez leave midseason to become an assistant coach with the Seattle Sounders, RSL made a Cinderella run to the MLS Western Conference Finals and interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni had that tag removed just over three weeks ago.

RSL’s 2022 campaign will begin Feb. 27.