The Mavericks revoked the credentials of two ESPN reporters, Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein.
Dallas owner Mark Cuban said he’s trying to prevent media companies from using computer-generated content rather than human-written stories – which doesn’t pass the smell test. Cuban wants humans rather than computers creating articles, so he removed access for two humans?
This probably reveals more about Cuban’s actual motives.
Cuban pointed to the lack of coverage on ESPN’s Dallas Mavericks home page after the team’s season opener in Indiana, a game which MacMahon missed for a trip to Memphis (where Chandler Parsons went after leaving the Mavericks this summer).
“When a fan goes to a Mavs page and the only coverage is a wire service or eventually an automated summary, one highlight and a tweet, that hurts all stakeholders,” Cuban wrote.
Cuban has offered to fly ESPN reporters on the team plane to cut costs, something the Dallas Morning News currently does. He also said he suggested ESPN host Mavs.com content during games they couldn’t cover in person. Cuban said ESPN rejected both ideas. (An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment when asked for confirmation.)
A fan getting bare-bones Mavericks coverage from ESPN doesn’t hurt all stakeholders. It hurts the Mavericks, Cuban and Mavericks fans. But it doesn’t hurt ESPN, which has finite resources and is more often directing them away from Dallas and toward teams that generate more interest.
The Mavericks (1-5) have gotten bad and dull. It’d be great to cover all their games in detail, which MacMahon did in prior seasons. But ESPN has determined his writing could be more useful elsewhere.
Essentially, Cuban’s interests and ESPN’s previously overlapped more. Now that they’re less aligned, Cuban is agitating to get his way – even if it means spiting himself in the short-term.
It won’t work.
His idea of ESPN hosting Mavs.com content is a non-starter. Despite a TV contract with the league that creates conflicts of interest, ESPN has developed a brand based on more independent coverage than simply running propaganda written by someone paid by Cuban.
In the same vein, accepting a team-provided flight is probably a bridge too far for ESPN. Many media outlets refuse gifts from people they’re covering, and a free flight crosses that line for ESPN. That a credential – essentially free entry to an event that costs others hundreds of dollars – doesn’t cross the line shows how arbitrary these lines can be. But ESPN has to set its standard somewhere.
ESPN wants its reporter, MacMahon, to sometimes cover the Mavericks and sometimes cover other teams. (Stein, who is Dallas-based but has long focused nationally, is mostly just caught in the crosshairs.) Cuban wants an ESPN reporter to cover the Mavericks exclusively.
Cuban’s solution? Make it as difficult as possible for an ESPN reporter to cover the Mavericks at all.
Again, it won’t achieve Cuban’s desired outcome.
The Mavericks are not enough of a draw to demand more coverage. It’d be far easier to cover them less given the impediments to finding interesting storylines, though I still expect ESPN to cover Dallas a reasonable amount.
I also expect Cuban, with pressure from the league office and other media, to eventually acquiesce. The bigger question is just how much coverage he costs his team in the interim.