MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Real Salt Lake enter new era with "dream ownership group"

After over 16 months of uncertainty, Real Salt Lake officially have a new ownership group and are moving forward.

Major League Soccer on Wednesday announced the sale approval for RSL to David Blitzer and Ryan Smith's Smith Entertainment Group. Blitzer and Smith on Thursday then addressed the media from Rio Tinto Stadium, a venue the pair will become all the more familiar with as time goes on.

In August 2020, previous owner Dell Loy Hansen announced his plans to sell the Claret-and-Cobalt after an investigation was launched following allegations of misconduct and language.

“This is an amazing day for Ryan and myself," Blitzer told media on a virtual press conference. "I couldn’t be more pleased to be here at Rio Tinto Stadium as our first day of the new stewards, I would call it, of this amazing franchise."

Blitzer and Smith have extensive experience in sports business. Blitzer's sports and entertainment portfolio includes teams in the National Basketball Association (Philadelphia 76ers), National Hockey League (New Jersey Devils), the English Premier League (Crystal Palace) and the German Bundesliga (FC Augsburg). Smith is the owner of the NBA's Utah Jazz.

“We couldn’t be more excited where this is going to go," Smith said. "We’re excited to invest, put a good product on the field and win. It’s what we’re all about.”

Even MLS Commissioner Don Garber has called them a "dream ownership group."

Blitzer said he's been a fan of soccer a long time and was a regular at New York City FC games. He looked to invest in MLS and was ready for the right opportunity, provided the right partner could be found. Smith, with his Utah connections through the Jazz, made for the perfect fit at the perfect time with RSL on the market.

RSL began play in 2005 and enjoyed quick success, winning MLS Cup in 2009 and reaching the final of the Concacaf Champions League in 2011. In 2021, under then-interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni, they charted an unlikely run to the Western Conference Final. This is their third ownership group in club history, coming after Hansen (2013-21) and Dave Checketts (2004-13).

“The history of this club, it’s a classic success story," Blitzer said. "It started out of nowhere and this market is incredible. Historically, Utah was sort of a hidden jewel. … But I don’t think it’s a hidden jewel anymore. It’s just a jewel. The fanbase here is incredible, this was clearly the market I wanted to make an investment in but I wanted to do it with someone who would be the perfect partner. Thankfully I was able to get that with Ryan Smith.”

Aside from RSL, the ownership change pertains to 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. That even contains ownership of the RSL Academy and its local and regional youth affiliates.

Further, the new ownership group has an option to revive the Utah Royals in the National Women's Soccer League. Blitzer says the Royals returning is a matter of "when, not if." The club relocated to Kansas City after the 2020 NWSL season but Blitzer and Smith retain the Royals' branding when they resume the team.

Mastroeni, who took over midseason after Freddy Juarez departed for Seattle, has already been named permanent head coach. Blitzer said the front office will remain, which includes general manager Elliot Fall, technical director Kurt Schmid and others.

“It’s day one," Blitzer cautioned. "We think the management has done a very good job in not the easiest of circumstances. Results tend to speak for themselves on the pitch and it doesn’t get a whole lot better (than the Western Conference Final.) We’re pleased with our management team, we’ve enjoyed our interactions with them and this will be the team that is here.”

Neither Blitzer nor Smith made grandiose, specific promises of elevated spending on their first day, but both reiterated their commitment to winning in Utah.

“Ryan and I are extremely competitive individuals, we want to see Real Salt Lake win MLS Cup," Blitzer said. "That’s abundantly clear.”