by Daniel Olsen
Since March is Women’s History Month, we will be focusing on the great women in the sports history of the Beehive State. This week’s feature is Gail Miller.
Few women have had as great of an impact on the professional sports scene as Gail Miller. She helped the biggest professional franchise in the state to stay put in a time where it seemed destined to go elsewhere. She made sure that the Jazz would invest in a trust fund that would keep them in Utah forever. In due time, she found a new owner who she trusts to keep building the Jazz legacy. This is her story.
Taking Ownership of the Jazz
Gail and Larry Miller invested in a part-ownership of the Utah Jazz in 1985 and gained complete ownership in 1986. It did not come without trials though. Between 1985-1988 there were several times that the Jazz almost relocated. Each time, the Millers came and got a deal done to keep the Jazz in Utah before the deadline.
“I knew we had to keep [the Jazz] in Utah somehow,” Larry Miller told the Deseret News. “This was important to me.”
The Miller family would gain money as the Jazz increased in popularity. They also had other business ventures in the automotive, movie and other industries around the state of Utah. Gail was supportive through the easy and hard times.
As Jazz fans watched the championship window close for their team a few times in heartbreaking fashion, Gail experienced her own heartbreak. Her husband, Larry H. Miller, passed away on February 20, 2009. He had battled several physical ailments near the end of his life which included a heart attack. He was honored with a retired jersey with the number nine (his softball number).
Although this was a sad moment, Gail worked hard to stay positive and would later re-marry. She dealt with other trials recently within the Jazz organization. Near the end of her time as owner, she worked to combat racist remarks made by some Jazz fans at games. She also dealt with tough changes in the franchise, including the retirement of Jerry Sloan, departure of Gordon Hayward and the rift between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. While the Jazz haven’t won a title yet, Miller remains loyal to the team she has grown up with. There can be only one champion every year. While the Jazz haven’t eclipsed that feat, they have been one of the best teams to never win with all the deep playoff runs they have accumulated in over 40 seasons as a franchise.
You can listen to the weekly featured inductee of the week episode on Gail Miller in the below Apple and Spotify links.
Forever in Utah
In 2017, the Miller family announced they had transferred the Jazz organization along with Vivint Arena to a Legacy Trust Fund. This guaranteed that the Jazz would stay in Utah as long as the Jazz ownership continues to stay true to that promise. The details of the trust fund and its tax benefits are explained in detail here.
Selling the Jazz to Ryan Smith
In the 2020-2021 season, the Miller family found a new billionaire entrepreneur in whom they entrusted the keys to the ownership of the Utah Jazz. He was announced as none other than Ryan Smith, the founder of Qualtrics. His Utah based company is built on an experience management software intended to create surveys and other methods to measure and improve the experience of customers.
With this move, the Miller family entrusts Smith in his vision to enhance the perception of the Jazz and Utah as a whole. He will work with the organization to improve fan experience and increase the value of the brand. With max contracts given to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz proved they are also serious about working to win a title.
The Miller family worked hard to become the wealthiest family in Utah. Gail has solely taken that mantle over the last decade in an effort to improve the experience for generations of Jazz fans to come.
Featured image courtesy Rick Bowmer / AP Photo