When Ryan Smith took over as owner of the Utah Jazz last December, one of the first core principles he wanted to instill in the organization was innovation.
With a strong background in technology, it would make sense that Smith would want to push the limits of technology to serve the Jazz and their fans better.
That’s why less than three months into taking ownership of the organization, Smith sat down with Riley Demps regarding NFTs and virtual reality. Their goal was to enter the world of non-fungible tokens and find a way to continually engage fans in the future moving forward, providing them the opportunity for less physical contact while still possessing the same level of intimacy.
On Friday night, Utah became the first professional sports program in the world to pair a digitally designed Non-Fungible Token (NFT) with premiere access into a virtual locker room, a process that took over six months to complete.
According to Demps, Friday’s event would not have been possible without the help of Krista Kim and Gia Valentina. Kim, a contemporary artist and founder of the Techism movement since 2014, and Valentina helped create the Spatial virtual space enjoyed by those in attendance.
“The metaverse will be an extension of community engagement for all sports teams, brands, and organizations,” Kim said. “It’s exciting to collaborate with metaverse architect Michael Potts and his team to create the new Utah Jazz metaverse locker room, and we are the first to add metaverse community engagement that is unlocked through Jazz genesis NFTs. Community engagement in the metaverse is our new reality, and this new generation of NFTs makes it possible.”
Anyone who purchased the NFT back on Sept. 7 was granted access to speak with Smith. Part of the experience was a virtual tour of the arena before heading into the virtual locker room where Smith greeted them. What followed was a 45-minute Q&A where participants could ask Smith about nearly anything regarding NFTs, the Jazz, or life itself.
While most of the questions centered around NFTs, some asked about Smith’s involvement with not only the Jazz but the state of Utah as a whole.
When asked why free agents might be willing to choose Utah as their destination, Smith gave a candid assessment of the situation.
He believes it’s his job and the entire state’s to show how unique Utah is as a whole. Smith wants others to know that the Jazz serve as a unifying factor for not only the people who live here, but for fans around the world.
Not your typical NBA owner—Smith is one of two owners under the age of 55—he’s been able to create relationships with the coaching staff while also relating to the players in a multitude of ways off the court.
Whether discussing the difficulties of being a father with Joe Ingles, playing golf with Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, or talking fashion with Jordan Clarkson, Smith has proven that he’s just a tiny piece of the cog that makes up the organization.
He reiterated that message at the Silicon Slopes event this past week when speaking alongside fellow owner Dwyane Wade. Smith told those in attendance that he doesn’t believe in majority or minority owners, that they all have a voice and a say—a notion Wade agreed with.
This is not the last time that fans will be able to participate in a Q&A of this magnitude by purchasing an NFT. Both Smith and Demps believe the Jazz and the NBA are just scratching the surface of NFTs and virtual experiences—a process they both hope to lead in the future.