Technology is the sixth man for this basketball franchise.
Ken Bonzon keeps a serenity prayer by St. Teresa of Avila taped to his computer monitor. "Let nothing frighten you," it counsels, which is good advice when your boss is Mark Cuban.
As chief information officer of the NBAs Dallas Mavericks, Bonzon works for a technology visionary who is outspokenand notoriously demanding.
"You learn his way," says Bonzon, 37, standing in his cubicle at the Mavericks business offices in Dallass Deep Ellum district, not far from their home court at the American Airlines Center. "That means spending less and not believing the hype on every expensive item that comes along." It also means being on call around the clock and sleeping with a PDA by his bed to review and answer e-mails.
The Mavs are no mere rich mans toy. Cuban, who made $1.3 billion when he sold his pioneering Internet audio and video service Broadcast.com to Yahoo in 1999, expects the franchise to perform as a business. He wants to fill every seat at every game, and maximize revenue from concessions and souvenir sales. He expects technology to support his plans every step of the way.
"Everything we do has some level of technology base," says Cuban. "Its just like electricity to us, but with more value-add to it."
Thus electrified, the Mavericks have grown into the eye-popping valuation Cuban placed on the team in 2000, when he paid $280 million for a half-interest in the franchise and its new arena. It was the highest price ever paid for an NBA team, until the Boston Celtics were sold this year for $360 million; it cost the owners of the new NBA franchise in Charlotte, N.C., $300 million to join the league.
Cuban has increased his stake in the Mavericks and reportedly now owns more than 80 percent of the team. According to the annual Forbes magazine survey of professional sports franchises, the Mavs are now worth $304 million, up 44 percent from 2002; the average appreciation for an NBA team last year was 13 percent. Forbes estimates the teams revenue was $105 million last year, with operating income of $3.2 million. The Mavericks organization does not discuss its finances, says Cuban.
Cuban sets the tech game plan, and the soft-spoken Bonzon executes it. "A company can only have one vision," says Cuban. "He knows what I want to do. I stay pretty much on top of what is happening in the I.T. world, and he will run anything of consequence by me first. If I plan wireless, and he wants wired, or vice versa, we have to be in sync or we have a problem."
Bonzon, a native of Queens, N.Y., who started out working in technology services at Reuters in the late 80s, says Cuban is exacting but respectful. "Hell second guess you on technology, but never on a personal level," says Bonzon.
Cubans strategy to reach his business goals is to give fans the best possible experience, with a high-quality team on the floor and excellent service at arena bars, barbecue stands, and souvenir shops. Last season, the Mavs filled the 19,200-seat American Airlines Center to 103.7 percent capacity, bringing in folding chairs to handle the overflow demand for tickets; Dallas was named the best NBA city by The Sporting News.
Filling seats is criticalempty seats dont buy sodas and souvenirs, and a full house creates excitement. To track attendance, the Mavs became the first NBA team to put bar codes on tickets, in part to find out if group sales and community-organization giveaways are putting bodies in seats or just wasting tickets. "We want those seats to go to people who will use them," says Bonzon. Groups that show up have a better chance of getting future tickets.
American Airlines Center, a retro-styled brick building that opened in 2001, functions as a giant reverse-ATM for fans, pulling cash out of their wallets as efficiently as possible. Each of 144 luxury suites is equipped with PCs that handle orders for merchandise, food, and beverages; wireless access from all seats is on the way so fans can place orders without missing a dribble. In the big retail store on the ground floor, handheld-wielding salespeople materialize to ring up credit-card purchases when lines get too long.
Next page: A retail ASP, point-of-sale software and arena operations working together.
Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.