Cuban Moving Away From Joe Fan Reputation

It’s always entertaining when Mark Cuban tries speaking truth to power. It’s often empowering for fans. Lately, though, he’s veered from his everyman appeal and started acting more like the power he is – billions of dollars worth – and sounding awfully rapacious.

Please dial it back, Mark. Did your portfolio suddenly take a hit? Return to being the owner you were, the fan who hit the lottery, but kept acting like the guy who couldn’t afford to sit in the lower deck.

Last month, the Dallas Mavericks owner came out in favor of popping corporate logos on jerseys. Yes, he indicated a moniker for an insurance or banking giant wouldn’t supersede the team name, but the message was clear: he wants the cash. If that means Mavericks fans buying jerseys will have to walk around with a Geico or Wells Fargo logo – or won’t be able to avoid them while watching games -- so be it.

Now, in an interview with FoxSports.com, he’s waded into the issue of pay-for-play in the Olympics. Apparently, he doesn’t like the idea that the NBA isn’t receiving compensation for its top asset – its players – generating money for corporate America and the U.S. Olympic Committee, while playing in the Games.

(He did make two welcome points. One, there is myth-making in the suggestion that the 1992 Olympic Dream Team inspired a whole generation of players around the globe to take up basketball. Hadn't these guys heard of Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson before the Games? The league would have had a load of international players regardless of what the Dream Team accomplished in Barcelona. The NBA was not doing the world some sort of public service by having its players don “USA” jerseys.

And two, Cuban did offer up some of that stand-up-for-the-fan stuff when he challenged the concept that patriotism trumps capitalism in the Olympic movement. If patriotism were at the core, why not put more of the Games on free TV and make it like the State of the Union speech?

“Look, if you don’t have cable, you’re not going to see a lot of what you’re supposed to be so patriotic about,” he said.)

The truth is, though, the NBA and Cuban are making money with their players participating in the Olympics. So, while Cuban’s comments generated headlines and conversation on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” radio show, he may not have thought them all the way through.

The simple flow chart holds that Olympic participation brings attention to the NBA worldwide, so jersey and merchandise sales increase and Cuban’s pockets are fattened. Also, TV contracts in European countries and China bring higher rights fees, also flowing the NBA’s way.  

USA Basketball (separate from the NBA) gets money from NBA players in the Olympics via sponsorships. Gatorade, American Express and State Farm are on the roster. But, the NBA is likely to benefit as sponsors may upgrade or extend marketing spending, driving dollars to individual teams and the networks that carry NBA games. And, the more money networks such as ESPN and TNT make, the more money, the league should receive in the next contract negotiations.

The latest marketer to indirectly put money in Cuban’s pocket is Jeep, which announced Monday it has joined the USA Basketball sponsor list. Jeep will also launch an ad campaign this weekend featuring Los Angeles Clippers star and Olympian Chris Paul in his “USA” jersey. TV spots should run repeatedly during playoff coverage.

Cuban’s comments followed some noise by NBA players Dwayne Wade and Ray Allen that members of Team USA should be paid (Wade has since tried to recant).

Paul, though, won't join that chorus. Jeep has just shown him a direct benefit from his volunteer work in playing on the Olympic team.

Cuban’s riches may travel a less straightforward path to his pocket, but the money is there. Let’s hope his commentary returns to less bottom-line oriented stuff. Where has the ostensible Joe Fan ardor gone?

Tags: television
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