Maybe Mark Cuban just saw that enough was enough. That the capitalist spiral in professional sports has gone over the top and it can’t continue like this. Maybe it’s completely different, Cuban has still not commented in detail – apart from a short statement about not running for US President after all – about why he is now buying the majority of his shares in the Dallas Mavericks basketball franchise want to sell. On Wednesday, the other owners of the NBA professional league agreed to the sale; New details emerged about this deal, which is unique in US sports and leads to the question: What happens next for the Mavs and the NBA?
The club plays a special role in the hearts of German sports fans. Würzburg’s Dirk Nowitzki played there from 1998 to 2019 and won the title in 2011. Anyone who thought Nowitzki was great – pretty much anyone with a little basketball heart – was a Mavericks fan. This was also so easy because of Cuban, who bought the franchise in 1999 for $285 million.
Until then, club owners could be found in boxes, Cuban sat behind the bench. He raged and trolled, argued with referees, cheered with the players and always expressed his opinion on league matters without a filter between brain and mouth. He was: a fan who had enough money to buy a franchise and run it the way a fan saw fit. Many innovations, especially in the technical area of the game (such as efficient video evidence in the NBA), can be traced back to his initiatives.
Cuban is a luminary in three areas: Professional sports. Entertainment. And: timing. Cuban is considered a master at sniffing out when to invest and when to sell his shares. So, again: why is he selling now?
A look at the details helps. They not only shine a light on the Mavericks, but on professional sports in the USA in general. They reveal how over-the-top everything is and how the speed of the spiral is unlikely to slow down. In fact, Cuban acts like a fan this time too; like someone who doesn’t want to worry about things that have nothing to do with sports in professional sports.
The deal is unusual, even unique. Cuban previously owned three quarters of the shares, the rest to a handful of minority owners. After the sale, which valued the Mavericks at $3.5 billion, he holds almost a quarter of the shares. Almost three quarters belong to the Adelson and Dumont families from the Sands Corporation casino hotel empire. Patrick Dumont will vote as the so-called “governor” for the Mavs in league matters, the NBA is ultimately an association of club owners – and Cuban will act as “alternate governor” over the sports area in the franchise. And, as we hear from those close to the Mavericks, “until eternity”. There is nothing like this at any other franchise in US sports.
So Dallas separates the sporting and business areas, and it’s interesting that for a US sports club, the sporting area only accounts for a quarter of the total value. In the New York Times read: “The sale provides a look at the business of sports, which is currently changing rapidly. When Cuban bought the Mavericks, sports clubs were largely just that: sports clubs. Today they are part of much larger conglomerates: entertainment tenants -Complexes, content provider for media, center of the betting industry.”
In the USA there is certainty without sentimentality: professional sport is entertainment, and entertainment is a business – like in Hollywood, where they produce art but sell it like a commodity. They don’t even pretend that making money is a necessary part of financing the game. No, it’s completely clear: it’s all about making money. Sport is the product. You don’t have to like it, but you have to acknowledge it: it’s honest – and it has consequences that also affect sports.
Professional sports used to be about identifying the best in a certain discipline. If as many people as possible found this competition interesting and exciting enough, they would watch and identify with the athletes. They bought fan articles, clothes or TV subscriptions, and sports became a business. Nowadays it’s like this: It all starts with business, and marketers have to make sure that the search for the supposedly best is so interesting that as many people as possible watch and then become customers. Sounds like a tiny difference, but it’s huge.
A quick look at the internal paper of a US TV station on its sports broadcasts, which is available to the SZ: A critic evaluates the commentator’s performance; it’s about choice of words, wit, competence. But it’s also about how brilliantly the commentator succeeded in jazzing up a highly one-sided game into a potentially legendary event; always supported by colleagues from the statistics department with messages saying that the last time a team managed to catch up with a deficit like this was 57 years ago. It was nothing other than a constant challenge to the audience, which is exactly what the critic praised the commentator almost euphorically for: stay tuned until the end of the game and thus until all the advertising films are sent out during the commercial breaks.
Those observers who are supposed to report on sport are also part of the marketing
Second display after the statistics: how much money you would get if you were to bet live on a comeback – with the commentator pointing out that the club that is currently behind was favored before the game and is actually the better team. This means: The commentator’s job is not only to classify what is happening on the field and to provide viewers with useful information, but also to keep these viewers in front of the screens and perhaps even encourage them to bet. Knowing that competitive people are more likely to stick with it until the end compared to non-bettors. Higher TV ratings mean higher income for everyone. The NBA currently earns $2.65 billion per season from US TV rights. This contract expires in 2025, the amount that is rumored for the period after that: eight billion dollars per year.
This means that everyone has an interest in the store running – so those observers who are supposed to report on sport are also part of the marketing.
Then there are the foreign rights, and you can say that Cuban had the right nose there too. He had Nowitzki, and at the end of his career he brought in the next European: the Slovenian Luka Doncic. Around a quarter of all NBA professionals are foreigners; since 2018, only non-Americans have been voted the most valuable player of a season: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece, 2019/20), Nikola Jokic (Serbia, 2021/22) and Joel Embiid (Cameroon, 2023). It’s like the board game “Risk”: another country, another territory. More, more and more.
Maybe high jazz is the right word for it, and there are other symptoms, like this new mini-tournament in the middle of the NBA regular season. To put it simply, they were based on the cup competitions in European sports, but because the league – also because of the collective agreement – can no longer schedule games, regular season games were inflated to “in-season games”; The Los Angeles Lakers won the final in Las Vegas against the Indiana Pacers. The tournament is completely irrelevant in terms of sport. What was there: $500,000 for the winning players, a trophy (the Lakers actually hang a banner under the roof of the arena), individual awards (LeBron James won MVP) and of course special “City Edition” jerseys that fans were encouraged to buy for $119 each.
That’s exactly how you have to evaluate the sale of the Mavericks and assess the future: Even billionaire Cuban needs help so that his Mavs remain competitive in this over-the-top US sport. The club currently shares a hall with the Dallas Stars ice hockey franchise. But Cuban wants: his own stadium with a hotel and casino. It’s a good thing that the buyer families specialize in exactly this, see company-owned hotel-casino complexes in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau. And it’s a good thing that Miriam Adelson is not only one of the richest people in the world – her fortune is estimated at $33 billion – but also a politically influential one. She and her late husband Sheldon are said to have donated a total of $500 million to date, almost exclusively to Republicans; Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is a close friend of the Adelsons. What it takes for a thriving casino hotel in Dallas: Legalization of sports betting – so it’s fitting that the governor has already announced that he considers sports betting only “a form of entertainment” and that he himself will not veto a bill.
So what happens next for the Mavericks after this deal? Mark Cuban has found the perfect partner to position the franchise financially and politically for the future in the over-the-top US sport. This allows him to be what he always wanted to be and which is why he is popular and successful as an NBA club owner: a fan who has enough money to run a franchise the way a fan sees fit. This is good news for Mavs supporters.