Another day, another Mark Cuban blog post on sports and media. (See my previous take on Cuban’s post on ESPN’s Twitter Problem here) For Sportology, this is like Christmas. Yesterday, Cuban questioned the role and the need for various types of traditional media (and some of the emerging non-traditional media too). You can and should read his whole post here.
Cuban already noted that he liked Dan Shanoff’s take, in which Shanoff summed it all up with the punchline:
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.)
I’m actually going to disagree a little with Shanoff, because it’s about much more than ticket sales.
Ticket sales is a proxy for revenue. If anyone has proven that he knows how to sell tickets, it’s Mark Cuban. Before Cuban bought the team, the Mavericks were a trainwreck of a franchise and under Cuban has enjoyed an NBA-longest run of sold out games. Ticket sales is already at close to capacity, or as close to capacity as one could expect. The delta between total ticket revenue and total possible ticket revenue isn’t big enough for Cuban to question sports media.
(On a side note, Cuban will LOVE when the group buying companies get into selling excess inventory for last minute sales. When Groupon Mobile let’s Dallas area buyers know that rarely available Mavericks tickets are actually available for $5 or $10 an hour before tipoff, the Mavericks will never have an empty seat again. Goodbye excess inventory forever.)
I think Cuban is really talking about the media as a middle man. And to better articulate that point, I’m going to re-quote Washington Wizards/Capitals owner Ted Leonsis from one of my earlier blog posts on the role of social media in sports:
I think it’s something that [the Washington Post] need[s] to internalize: that we’re our own media company. I announce things on my blog. I get 40 to 90,000 people coming to my blog, depending on the subject. I have a direct, unfiltered way to reach our audience now, and I think that harnessing that is what you have to do as ownership, because we are media brands. We’re in the subscription business. We call them season-ticket holders. We’re in the sponsorship business. We’re in the same business [as The Post].
I’d say if any two owners in sports understand this, it’s Cuban and Leonsis, the only Internet executives as sports franchise owners.
The Mavericks are already a content producing machine. A media company of it’s own. Why let the “traditional media” come in and create the narrative and take the page views and attention?
Cuban’s point is that, today, there is still a large enough number of “customers” who get their primary news from newspapers and television, call them the traditional media sources. Let’s call that number of customers X. Whereas Y is the number of “digital natives” who get their news from Twitter and only end up on a traditional media site if someone shared a link to it. The Y’s don’t need or use traditional news sources. Older people die, increasing the percentage of digital natives. Television and the Internet continue to converge, reducing the numbers of traditional media customers. Social Web use is skyrocketing, increasing the number of digital natives. The number X is dropping rapidly while the number Y is growing equally rapidly.
When Y is sufficiently bigger than X, the Mavericks can just harness the content they are already producing and become their own media channel more explicitly. Players Tweeting, YouTube videos from the locker room, there’s more than enough content and headlines being generated organically from Mavericks owned resources that the media as middle man becomes irrelevant. They generate spammy headlines to generate traffic of their own because the real content is the game itself and the number of points Dirk scored last night and the Mavericks don’t need any help getting that message out. Why let the local news get page views and attention when the Mavs could easily set up MavsContentHere.com and create viral, social interaction out of their own existing social content? They can keep the ad revenue and control the narrative (to the degree possible). What’s more likely to generate ticket sales and revenue for the Mavs? Salacious, trollish trade rumors or a Tweet from Dirk?
We’re still early in this massive shift, so this will continue to play itself out over the coming years. As we continue to talk about here at Sportology, not enough owners understand this and not enough people in the sports media world understand how vulnerable they are.