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?
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?
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.