Monday, December 19, 2005

= Insane

As recently as three years ago, you could trade shares in the Boston Celtics on the New York Stock Exchange (unfortunately, your ownership didn't constitute the ability to fire Jim O'Brien). Nascar is really just 30 billboards racing 500 laps around a course, with the winning billboard (oftentimes Home Depot) getting the added bonus of having Gatorade poured all over it. Vince McMahon created a farcical football league called the XFL that was sunk by the cameramen's inability to remove focus from the cheerleaders to the field of play. But the intersection of sports and business is nothing new. I'm sure during prehistoric days, Cromagnum's wagered on races between Wooly Mammoths (with an obligatory Cromagnum with Golden Palace shaved on his chest disrupting the race).

But modern times' most interesting intersection concerns one Mark Cuban, the flamboyant Dallas Mavericks owner and self-proclaimed technology visionary. For those who don't know the story, Mark founded an Internet company called AudioNet with fellow Indiana University alum Todd Wagner. Their goal was to allow IU fans to listen to games across the country, rather than just in the local area that picked up the radio signal. AudioNet, rechristined (adding .com in 1999 virtually doubled your market cap), was purchased by Yahoo! for $6 billion dollars during the height of the dot com glory days, netting Mark a cool $1.7 billion on paper. On whichever island the Yahoo! executive that greenlighted that deal currently resides on/owns, I hope he chokes on his crab cakes or mahi-mahi. $6 billion for a business that was easily replicable, demonstrated very little cash flow, and run by a snotty little s-head like Cuban ?!? That is why most modern executives are required to go to business school, so they can learn discounted cash flow...and common sense.

But back to Cuban, who used his money to buy amongst other things: a Gulfstream G-5 (purchased on the internet, of course), a smoking hot wife (just kidding, she wasn't purchased, because according to Cuban "never mix romance with business"), a 24,000 square foot mansion in Dallas, and oh yes, the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks purchase was the culmination of young Mark Cuban's fantasies, and young Mark Cuban continues to reappear at the American Airlines center in the form of 5 year old-esque tantrums.

Though you can't fault the guy for his business acumen, you must wonder, "Can Mark Cuban finally be declared legally insane?" This, after it was recently revealed that his latest business venture is "a high-tech toilet seat that provides all of the hygienic benefits of a traditional bidet." I don't know about you, but I didn't notice a lot of requests on Christmas lists this year for bidets. Brondell, which makes the Swash, received $1.3 million funding from a group of investors including Mark Cuban, the head "Swasher." Highlights of the Swash include filtered posterior and feminine warm water wash, a warm air dryer and a remote control. This beckons two major questions: do you really want warm air coming from your toilet and under what circumstances would a remote be necessary?

This unlikely outlay of money by Cuban comes on the heels of his investment in Landmark Theaters, an art-house chain that doesn't seem like much of a growth opportunity on the exterior (or interior or posterior for that matter). His plan for success: switch the projection from film to digital as soon as possible (at a cost of $100,000 per Sony projector). Meanwhile, competitors are waiting for studios to foot the bill for the new digital projectors, which will save the studios the large amount of money they spend on physically distributing the actual film. Cuban still seems to believe that even with sub-par movies deluging the screens, people will come out to the Landmark, extoling "the virtues of enjoying a movie in a theater with fellow movie fans" (source NY Times). I can't wait to join everyone else for the cathartic experience of Cameron Crowe's forced dialogue in Vanilla Sky 2 (since this blog doesn't have audio, you'll have to imagine the obligatory whisper of "open your eyes").

In conclusion, Mark Cuban is very, very rich. But let us not forget these stats of the Dallas Mavericks: 0 NBA championships, 0 Conference championships, 1 Division championships (1987). You can buy Shawn Bradley, but Shawn Bradley can't buy a jump shot. And as Yogi Berra said, "A plan in your head isn’t worth the paper it is written on." So while bidays and digital theater chains showing mediocre films may sound like a good investment idea...oh wait, they don't sound like good investment ideas at all! I guess I prefer the Oracle of Omaha (Warren Buffet) to the Dunce of Dallas (Mark Cuban).

Editors Note: In that last sentence, I was going to replace the word "Dunce" with another "D" word pertaining to female hygiene.

Second Editors Note: Did anyone catch Gauntlet 2 last week when our favorite alcoholic, Ruthie, said of castmate Jo, "Bottom line? She's just crazy." That's dangerously close to the pot calling the kettle black...or in this case, the Budweiser bottle calling the kettle black.


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