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January 21, 2008

One-on-one with Mark Cuban

 

(Photo courtesy of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)

Mark Cuban is the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and the co-founder of the high definition television channel HDNet. In October 2007, Cuban built upon HDNet's past mixed martial arts telecasts, diving head first into the MMA ring with the start of his promotion, HDNet Fights. I conducted an e-mail interview with him this past weekend in which he discussed everything from entrepreneurship to pro basketball to where the sport of MMA is headed. What follows is the transcript of that interview.

You’ve made your fortune through entrepreneurship in technology companies, most notably MicroSolutions and Broadcast.com. Has technology always been an interest of yours or why did you decide to go in that direction with your companies?

I've been a tech geek for a long time. So it was natural for me to pursue tech-based businesses.

What do you think are the keys to enjoying success with a startup?

Loving what you do. If you start a business that you find fun and interesting, it’s never work.

In recent years, you’ve become a more visible member of the sports community, first through your ownership of the Dallas Mavericks. Why did you decide to become an NBA owner?

I was always a [basketball] junkie. I still play as much as I can. I couldn't pass up the chance to buy my favorite team.

When I was growing up, the Mavericks were the laughingstock of the NBA. Now, the team is a hotspot for top talent. What are the essential ingredients in running a successful NBA team?

Having fun, always put yourself in the shoes of your customers and do what you can to give them the best possible value and experience.

Also going back to my youth, I used to love watching Bird and Magic duel in the spring and later watch Jordan battle the Pistons’ Bad Boys.  These days, I can’t even watch a full NBA game. Conventional wisdom says that the regular season is too long and only the fourth quarter of a game really matters. Why do you think the pro basketball game is so maligned these days and do you think this is deserved?

Because people like you jump to conclusions without actually watching games. [It's] that simple.

How did you become interested in MMA?

We started broadcasting MMA on HDNet a few years ago.

Why do you feel that this is the right time to get into MMA?

Because the UFC is a single leader and I think they have left the door open.

I recently interviewed UFC president Dana White and he says he respects you as a businessman. What do you think of the job White has done with the UFC?

His success speaks for itself. That said, no business is perfect. It’s hard to grow, expand internationally, keep all your employees happy as new competitors enter the market, keep regulators happy and the list goes on. Challenges change over time. It will be fun to watch him address all of these issues. Plus he has to be concerned over his ratings. If [The Ultimate Fighter] ratings drop materially, his whole game plan will have to change. That won't be inexpensive or easy.

That said, there is plenty of room for more than one company.

What flaws do you see in the UFC’s game that you think can be exploited?

The biggest is that their contracts don't adhere to the [Muhammad] Ali [Boxing] Reform Act. There will come a time in the not distant future when they will be required to.

Are you looking to defeat UFC or co-exist with them?

There is plenty of room for multiple companies.

What do you bring to the table that will allow you to overcome the perception that UFC = MMA?

My experience in marketing, technology, pro sports and a vertically integrated entertainment company.

What do you think are the keys to running a successful MMA promotion?

Being patient.

How big do you think MMA can be in this country? Can it be one of the major sports (with football, basketball and baseball)?

I think it will have a core following that can [be] bigger than it is today and then build marquee events that are mainstream.

I’ve read reports that you’ve had discussions with Floyd Mayweather regarding MMA. How far are you in those talks? Would he be a fighter or a business partner in a MMA venture with you?

Stay tuned.

I’ve read that you were once in talks with WWE to form a MMA company. Do you believe MMA draws its fan base more from pro wrestling or more from boxing?

I think WWE fans graduate to MMA.

Do you enjoy the more theatrical PRIDE-style MMA production or the more toned-down UFC-style production?

I like both. I don't think, however, that one size fits all. Different markets require different presentations.

Posted by at 10:33 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Q&As
        

Comments

I have a better idea for Cuban, Hand the money to me instead of flushing it down the toilet. Has he heard of Bodog? They had network tv didn't even work for them. UFC is the brand name.

To Jon--
Who the hell cares about a brand name? Fight fans care about the fighters and the fights, not some corporate logo!

Thanks for posting the interview, I've been watching HDnet closely & like the progress they have made. The more companies in the business the better.

I dont have any market research, but there is no way I believe WWE viewers "graduate" to MMA. I hate WWE, have never watched it, and dont know any MMA fans that follow it at all. It is like ballet for men. From my experience, it is all the Martial Arts fans, that grew up watching cheap Chinese movies, Bruce Lee, Kung Fu, Zatoichi, Anime, etc. that look for something real that emulates it. MMA could not have existed in America if those martial arts pioneers hadn't created love/appreciation of martial arts first.

I like this guys long answers...

Bodog didn't have network tv, they had ION, that's not a network, and their production looked like it was shot underwater. Andrew, marketing genius: who cares about brand names? Have you heard of McDonalds? or Walmart? Low quality products, most valuable brand names...

Nate: Good call... the MMA pioneers like the ones you mentioned gave rise to guys like Bas Rutten and Ken Shamrock, and they've helped push the sport to where it is now...

wow, what a horrible interview subject. Maybe he's being guarded but shoot, he answered each question with one sentence and for some didn't even answer the question that was asked! If you don't want to do the interview then don't do it Cuban. I just lost some respect for the man.

You should've asked him about Dancing with the Stars. I bet you wouldn't have been able to shut him up.

And for crying out loud, go watch an NBA basketball game!

---

Sanjit,

Good idea. I'll ask about Dancing with the Stars next time...I'd rather watch the Terps upset the Tar Heels with tons of passionate fans instead of watching sanitized bball with corporate types sitting on their hands the whole time...

Pramit

lmao, I agree Pramit. I'm a big UConn fan and obviously just of college basketball in general. I'll watch Memphis, Kansas and Gtown any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

What a tool! The Muhammad Ali Reform Act? You gotta be kidding me. In case you didn't look it up, this Act is for unfair and anticompetitive practices in boxing. It's as if Cuban has no interest at all in MMA. He just sees a well that is being tapped by one company and wants to get in on the action.

How did you become interested in MMA?

We started broadcasting MMA on HDNet a few years ago.

Enough said! No interest at all beyond financial interest. At least Dana, Lorenzo, and Frank were fans before the purchase. That's why they bought the UFC when MMA was all but dead in the US. I agree with Andrew on one point. It is all about the fighters and the fights. But right now, as it stands, unless we have a universal governing body and promoters that agree to co-promote the way they do in boxing, it is counter-productive to have many different venues. It will only serve to further limit matchmaking abilities and we'll never see the superfights that we want to see. Oh yeah, and to say that MMA fans evolved from WWF, or E or whatever they're calling it now, is like saying that humans evolved from dinosaur dung. Very insulting.

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About the blogger
Kevin Richardson has been a fan of mixed martial arts competition ever since UFC 3, when 600-pound sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarborough was beaten by Keith Hackney. Kevin will cover the world of MMA — in Baltimore, nationally and internationally. He plans to take readers into the locker rooms and MMA schools, where they'll hear from local fighters and trainers. If you have a news tip or suggestions for the blog, please e-mail him.

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