By Dan Shanoff
What is Mark Cuban really talking about when he talks about the “role of sports media for sports teams?”
That’s it. It’s that simple. Getting paying customers into the arena. (Maybe, to a lesser extent, getting them to watch the local broadcast, because that audience links directly back to advertisers that want a relationship with the Mavs. Either way: It’s about money.)
That isn’t a pejorative. Cuban runs a business. Beyond the Mavs’ role as a public trust, it is in operation to make money.
Why would you be surprised that Cuban -- the business owner -- favors the outlets that help his business and doesn’t favor the ones that don’t?
Let’s put this even more simply: I could produce the most sensationalized, hyperbole-est, page-view-whoring, SEO-slurping, trollified Mavericks site on the Web...
...and if I drove ticket sales in a meaningful way, Mark Cuban would make sure I had the comfiest seat on press row.
If you were at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last month -- where Cuban is the jolly mayor -- you would have had your worldview clarified at two things he kept insisting: (1) That practitioners of sports media are living in a Cosmo Kramer “It’s-like-you-have-no-business-training-at-all” fantasy world and (2) that everything -- everything -- is sales.
And so TrollingWithTheMavs.com might not make Cuban happy as someone who wants all coverage of his team to be positive -- or at least fair and/or reasonable. But my guess is that if the site demonstratively got people going to games, Cuban would make it work.
Cuban’s media critique itself is the shiny object that gets people in the media reading -- don’t think the newspaper editors and reporters who Cuban clearly relies on for directly driving ticket sales aren’t feeling entirely satisfied that Cuban exempts them from “internet reporters.” (Don’t think that Cuban didn’t know that would be the reaction, too.)
The folks Cuban takes shots at don’t drive Mavs ticket sales or TV tune-in. That’s why he can take shots at them. As Cuban points out, if all those folks stopped covering the Mavs, the impact on the team’s business would be de minimus. It shouldn't surprise you that Cuban has a vested interest in cultivating the sales drivers -- and that includes the media.
But within that shiny object, Cuban has a point: Traffic-trolling -- sensational headlines and storylines, absurdist rumor-mongering, SEO-larded commentary, gaming you into clicking -- is a qualitative problem in media, including sports media.
(Let's not fall into the trap of painting with an overly broad brush: As I have said many times before, we are living in the greatest era of sports journalism in history. The top 5 or 10% is better than ever, and there is more creativity, more diversity, more authenticity and more authority. With that abundance comes more crap. It's a trade-off we should all be thrilled to live with.)
Cuban picks the “paid internet writers” as his foil, but it is an epidemic that stretches from “paid internet” to “unpaid internet” to, yes, newspapers and TV. Especially newspapers and TV, who have been in the “desperate to drive eyeballs” game a lot longer than the web folks and feel the pinch even more now. Watch local TV news or visit a local newspaper website recently? If the Mavs gamed like these folks, they would be in first place in the Western Conference.
It’s just that local media sensationalism is part of getting fans to go to the game, so that’s OK with the person who produces the game.
Let’s be clear: I respect Cuban’s attitude and approach. As a business owner, I agree with his priorities. As a journalist, I agree with the premise of his critique, if not its precision.
In this case, Cuban savvily engages in a little bit of sensationalized trolling himself -- see what he did there? -- to puff up the folks who help drive his business and undermine the folks that don’t, all wrapped in the journo-populist notion of “What happened to quality!”
At TrollingWithTheMavs.com, our paid internet reporters are leading with “OH GOD THE TEAM!” and “ZOMG: DIRK WANTS OUT?!?!?!?!?” and “KATE UPTON DOUGIE VIDEO MAVS KOBE”... and we’re driving 20,000 game attendees a season, plus converting tens of thousands of fans into qualified leads -- then customers -- of Mavs vendors and sponsors.
Mark lets us use the team jet on off-days.
Coming next: Reacting to Cuban on ESPN vs. Twitter, an argument near-and-dear to... well, everything, frankly.
Want to talk with Dan about the state of media -- and how his new company Quickish is a part of it? Email him at dan-[at]-quickish-[dot]-com.