Stadium Finance

Breaking: Sports Team Owner Does Good Thing, Really

The owner of the Utah Jazz, Gail Miller, has taken unprecedented steps to keep the Jazz in Utah

Stadium Finance
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Jan 24, 2017 at 12:36 PM ET

It’s rare that a pro sports owner sides with a region over a potential windfall profit, but this is one of those times. On Monday, Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller announced that she would be placing the team and the Vivint Smart Home Arena in a legacy trust, a move that should keep the team in Utah for the foreseeable future.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, though this doesn’t bar the newly-formed trust from eventually selling the Jazz, any and all profits garnered from a sale must be redirected back to the team itself, rather than landing in her and/or her offspring’s pockets. It’s an “unprecedented” restructuring of ownership, one that she and the NBA spent a year hammering out and is unique to all teams in the four major U.S. sports leagues.

[Gail Miller] will serve as the trustee, and eventually will cede control of the franchise to a six-person board of managers, composed of members of her family.

“It is as close as possible to there being perpetual ownership of a professional sports team,” son Greg Miller said.

The board of managers will need either a majority or a supermajority, depending on the nature of the business, to make future decisions for the franchise, attorney and former Utah Jazz President Dennis Haslam said.

Officials said the formation of the trust means all profits from the NBA franchise will be reinvested in the team so that the “trust will not provide any material benefit to the family from the Jazz.”

“It stays within the company,” Haslam said. “The profit that stays in the company will be used basically as retained earnings for expansion, for player salaries or other operations.”

The Utah Jazz rank as the NBA’s 20th most valuable franchise, according to Forbes, with an estimated value of $875 million dollars as of 2016. Gail and Larry Miller bought the Jazz in 1985 for $22 million dollars and had they wanted to cash out, the opportunity was there, even given the relatively small market. Larry Miller passed away in 2009, but his obituary mentions that he fielded multiple offers that would have provided a substantial return on the original investment, any number of which could have resulted in a departure from Utah.

What’s more, since the NBA’s last work stoppage in 2011, NBA team values have gone through the roof. A group of hedge fund magnates acquired the Milwaukee Bucks in April 2014, fetching a then-record $550 million, topping the team’s Forbes valuation by about $150 million. That mark was soon shattered by Steve Ballmer, who forked over $2 billion to acquire the Los Angeles Clippers from the disgraced Sterling family.

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, generosity-wise. The Jazz also received $22.7 million dollars in tax breaks – a combination of reduced future property taxes and taxpayer dollars from the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency – to help pay for the team’s $125-million-dollar renovation of Vivint Arena. Those funds were approved with minimal time for public debate, a maneuver that RDA Chairwoman Lisa Adams would go on to call a “a rookie mistake” after government officials and local activists complained about the lack of transparency and rushed process.

But there’s no denying Miller’s emotional ties to Utah and sincere desire to do right by the fans, profits be damned.  Via the Jazz’s official Twitter account, you can watch a nice promotional video in which Miller explains her reasons for doing so here.