One thing you may have noticed about Wall Street is that the very top people, with money to spend and no obligation to come into the office, love to buy sports teams. Unfortunately, not all of them are so great at actually owning these teams. Oh sure, they show up for the games, and wear the hats, and maybe even improve concession stand offerings. But do they dance with the mascots? Choreograph a half-time routine with the cheerleaders? The answers are no and no, and what that says to the fans and players is, “My heart’s not fully in this.” Even worse, a significant number of would-be owners don’t know the first thing about acquiring one of these organizations, be it baseball, basketball, football, or hockey, as evidenced by their being rebuffed time and time again.
One guy who does know a little something about getting what he wants vis-à-vis sports teams? Microsoft CEO-turned-LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, whose process is outlined by the Journal. For the naysayers, know this: It has nothing to do with being the highest bidder and everything to do with fist-pumping enthusiasm. For those who’ve come to accept that they’re never going to own a team of their own without help: Sit. Listen.
Rule No. 1: Don’t think, just do: Thirty minutes before meeting the basketball team he bought for $2 billion, Steve Ballmer was pacing a Starbucks parking lot on Wilshire Boulevard. His black Chevy SUV was headed to Beverly Hills, where he would face the players and coaches of the Los Angeles Clippers for the first time. He had never been to an event like this, he said later, and felt both elated and anxious. To avoid arriving early, he stopped for a giant ice tea. “What are the dynamics with basketball stars?” he asked himself as he paced. “I’m used to software developers.” [...] His Clippers purchase had closed five days earlier, but watching the billions exit his bank account had been strangely anticlimactic. Now, just before the Aug. 17 dinner, he felt the weight of what he had done. “I don’t have the first clue about being an owner” of a sports team, he thought.
Rule No. 2: Dream big: Mr. Ballmer compiled spreadsheets to determine profit in three years. Among the factors: revenue from sponsorships, ticket sales and local and national media with two media contracts coming up soon—and costs including NBA fees and players. “I priced it at a multiple of earnings, based on what I think I can do to make this work,” Mr. Ballmer said. “It’s aspirational, high-achievement, high-performance, but not insane.”
Rule No. 3: Give little old ladies what they want:
To stay in the game, Mr. Ballmer remained in town, sending out his laundry from his hotel room. As the deadline neared, his $1.75 billion bid was the highest. Ms. Sterling’s lawyer asked for $2 billion, courtside seats, parking spaces and the title of “owner emeritus.” Mr. Ballmer agreed and threw in the title of “Clippers #1 Fan.” Afterward, she told Mr. Baradaran: “Steve is my favorite. I would have considered a lower bid to get him as the owner.”
Rule No. 4: Once you’re in, start building enthusiasm early: The morning after the dinner posed other challenges: meeting the staff and impressing Clippers fans. “I’ve got to find my voice,” he said in his SUV. He entered the Clippers’ office the next morning to talk with most of his roughly 130 new employees. “Just over 100?” he said. “When I left Microsoft, we had 100,000 employees.” Standing before them, he demonstrated his gung-ho cheerleading style of old. Actual cheerleaders surrounded him, in Clippers red. “The past is the past,” he told the employees, almost yelling. “The Clippers are hot! Get after it—sponsorships, ticket sales…I didn’t buy this team to be mediocre! It’s show time!”
Rule No. 5: Never forget who you are and where you came from: As the fan event began, Mr. Ballmer waited alone in the arena tunnel while players were introduced. He jumped up and down, pounded the walls and pumped his fist. Then he burst out to the music he had selected: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” The crowd watched the bald man in khakis and Clippers cap lose himself in chest-bumping and high-fiving fans on his way to the stage. “Nothing gets in our way! Boom! Keep coming,” he screamed. “We’re the hard-core Clippers!”
That about does it. If you need extra help, Ballmer is holding remedial classes next month and a special workshop solely devoted to the art of motivational dancing and fist pumping the third weekend in October.