King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Mark Cuban answers -- quickly. Plus: George Steinbrenner rules with an obsessive hand. And: Lacrosse strike!

By Salon Staff
Published December 16, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

Last week I wrote an item about Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, in which I say he has an awful haircut but I think he's the smartest owner in American team sports because of his original way of looking at things. A little over an hour after the column appeared on Salon's cover, around 11 p.m. Central time, I got an e-mail from Cuban.

He thanked me for the kind words, which he said overrated him, and asked, "Is there someplace better than Supercuts I should know about...?"

Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner, Jerry Jones. I write about them and nothing. Not a call, not a letter. I mention Cuban, not even in the lead item, and an hour later he's writing to defend an argument I'd disagreed with. One reader who's also a writer, upon hearing this, called Cuban his favorite owner since he invariably responds to e-mailed questions within an hour. "Every billionaire should be as cool as him," this writer wrote.

Cuban refused to report the attendance to one game to make his point that attendance figures should be considered a private business matter because the information can be used against the Mavericks by their competitors in the Dallas entertainment market. I wrote that the massive amounts of free publicity provided to the team and the league by various media outlets create an obligation to provide attendance figures because those outlets, which essentially represent fans, want them. The attendance is part of the story of the game, just like any other statistic.

"And why is the attendance news?" Cuban wrote. "Seriously, why should anyone really even care? Do we care how many people are in the theater we are in? Do we care how many people are in the restaurant? Knowing the attendance after the fact doesn't help you determine if there is room for you to attend, and with the exception of the walkup tickets, the seats are bought in advance."

I answered that the attendance is news to me, Joe Fan, because a ballgame played in front of 5,000 people is a very different thing than a ballgame played in front of 20,000 people, and the attendance figure helps me understand what the conditions were.

Trends in attendance figures help me judge the health of the franchise. Attendance figures for games of the Montreal Expos, the then-Charlotte Hornets, the Arizona Cardinals and, yes, the Dallas Mavericks are very much a part of the story of those teams. Cuban's Mavericks have not been shy about publicizing their current sellout streak, after all, or the attendance boost that followed his purchase of the team in 2000 and their subsequent on-court improvement. And the attendance is part of the story of the game because fans and media have considered it a part of the story for more than a century and still want to know about it.

"Just because it's always done a particular way is no reason why it still should be," Cuban replied. "Arthur Andersen, Enron and MCI had some amazing traditions, I'm sure." He then pointed out that "sports are no longer an island to themselves in the entertainment world."

"There are now hundreds of different entertainment options on any given night competing for my customer," he wrote. "Other than sports teams, can you name any that is stupid enough to publish their attendance, which translates into a daily index of their success? ... If someone, competitor or media, wants to come to a Mavs game and count the heads in the stands for themselves and publish it, that's news acquisition and capture, and more power to them for doing the work. Otherwise, those who feel this is really news can gain that information in the form of average attendance that we have no problem distributing at the end of every season."

He also argued that on those rare occasions when the attendance is a factor, reporters can include that in their stories. "For the other 99.9 percent of the time, it didn't matter a bit to anyone except our competition," he wrote. "There is only one single benefit I see to publishing attendance and that is so that other sports teams that I compete with continue to do so, so that I can use it against them in competitive situations."

I don't think Cuban's ever going to convince the NBA that he's right on this minor point, and he's not going to convince me either, but I'll let him have the last word in the hope that other billionaires and team owners will be encouraged to drop me a line.

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Steinbrenner at the helm [PERMALINK]

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who has never sent me an e-mail, ordered general manager Brian Cashman and team vice president David Oppenheimer not to go to the winter meetings in New Orleans, something the Boss and his underlings have fought about in the past. Seems he doesn't want other teams learning the Yankees' secrets.

The team's big secret, which is about as secret as a reality TV wedding, is that Steinbrenner, galled at three consecutive seasons without a World Series victory, has taken over the team in an obsessive, Queeg-like fashion reminiscent of the period between the Reggie Jackson championship years of the '70s and the current Joe Torre era, when the Yankees went 15 years between division titles.

Jack Curry of the New York Times reports thusly from New Orleans: "One baseball official who has spoken to a few members of the Yankees' hierarchy said the 73-year-old Steinbrenner had stopped seeking the opinions of Cashman; Oppenheimer; Mark Newman, a vice president; Gene Michael, the trusted evaluator who has been with the organization for more than three decades; and other club executives whose opinions normally help mold the Yankees."

The American League East has finished in the same order -- Yanks, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Devil Rays -- every year since the Coolidge administration, but it might be time for a change. The offensively powerful Red Sox have added Curt Schilling, the Orioles have signed Miguel Tejada and are pursuing Vladimir Guerrero and either Ivan Rodriguez or Javy Lopez, and the Blue Jays are a team on the rise.

So far this offseason the Yanks have traded for Javier Vasquez and Kevin Brown, and they're close to signing Gary Sheffield and Kenny Lofton. By mid-May, Brown, Lofton and Sheffield will be 39, 37 and 35, and none of them are the good-citizen types the Yankees have built their latest dynasty around. The Yanks also made not much effort at keeping stalwart lefty Andy Pettitte, who is, and who signed with the Astros. If history is a guide, the Yankees with the tyrannical version of the Boss at the rudder will flame out, $200 million payroll and all.

This will be wonderful for people sick of the Yankees winning so much over the last eight years and terrible for the high mucky-mucks of Major League Baseball, who have spent that time trying to convince you that the Yankees' dominance has been an inevitable consequence of their wealth. Eighty or so losses ought to be proof, as though it were needed, that, as in other areas of life, a big pile of money is a handy thing to have, but it doesn't guarantee success.

Even though Cashman has apparently become a potted plant, Steinbrenner exercised his option for 2005 over the weekend, meaning either that the Boss plans to back off a little at some point or that he doesn't want to have to bother to hire a new G.M. to offer unheeded opinions.

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Another strike [PERMALINK]

I'm just sick about the National Lacrosse League strike, aren't you? On the other hand, it does help pass the time between last year's narrowly averted baseball strike and next year's overwhelmingly likely hockey work stoppage.

Players walked out of training camp a week ago and the union and the 10-team NLL were reportedly still far apart after a contentious weekend of negotiations. League officials say it will open as scheduled Dec. 26, walkout or no. I don't know much about lacrosse, though what I know I like. Still, you've got to be a pretty serious lacrosse fan to watch scab pro lacrosse matches.

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