Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer speaks on stage at the New York Times Dealbook event on November 1, 2018 in New York City.
Michael Cohen | Getty Images | The New York Times
“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
That’s a famous quote admired by Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO who became the owner of professional sports.
“Colin Powell taught us that,” Ballmer said in an interview with CNBC. Powell’s words relate perfectly to Ballmer’s new mission: to take a bigger share of the revenue in the basketball and entertainment market in Los Angeles.
Ballmer opened its new $ 1.2 billion arena, the Intuit Dome, on Friday. The 18,000-seat complex will be essential in helping the Clippers capture underserved sports fans in Los Angeles. Ballmer calls them the city’s “crushers”, a term used to describe working-class sports fans.
Before discussing the details around the Intuit Dome, the former Ballmer reflected on his time in his post-retirement role as a professional sports owner. Here’s what Ballmer said he learned about owning the Clippers and how it relates to his trading past.
It starts with Powell, the former Secretary of State under President George W. Bush’s administration.
Ballmer’s optimism shines through
Ballmer, 65, walked into a conference room in the Clippers’ office in downtown Los Angeles, after conducting more than four interviews, with more on his schedule. The discussion with CNBC lasted just over 15 minutes, covering various topics from the arena and his previous life in business. Powell’s words helped explain the optimism surrounding Ballmer’s vision for the Clippers, starting with the Intuit Dome.
“You have to be optimistic about taking on a huge project when you don’t start with the land,” Ballmer said. “Bringing the field together is a whole circus of legal issues, of resolutions. We had to buy the Forum as part of this process. You have to keep your optimism.”
Ballmer was referring to the $ 400 million in cash he paid to the Madison Square Garden Company, the Forum’s former owner. The Lakers played there from 1967 to 1999, and the building now mainly hosts concerts. Ballmer needed to resolve legal issues with MSG, who complained that Ballmer’s new arena would hurt Forum revenue. MSG bought the Forum for $ 23.5 million in 2012 and cashed it in 2020, thanks to Ballmer.
The Clippers owner also paid the Town of Inglewood $ 66.2 million for the land where Intuit Dome will be located. The Clippers will get some of that back, however. Intuit, the software company that makes Turbo Tax, will pay the team more than $ 500 million for a 23-year naming rights window.
This deal only reinforced Ballmer’s optimism.
“This stage is all about being optimistic for our team,” Ballmer said.
“It’s about being upbeat for our fans. Enter the building, recharge, recharge,” Ballmer added as he clapped his hands. “Your energy can fuel our team to greater success.”
He then laughed as he discussed the “weird little world” and a key relationship that likely helped the Clippers strike a record-breaking naming rights deal. Ballmer returned in 1977, when he worked at Procter and Gamble. The person responsible for helping him get settled was Scott Cook, who later co-founded Intuit.
Asked about one of the lessons he learned at P&G that he still uses today as the NBA owner, Ballmer said, “It’s good to make consistent long-term bets. took that to a whole new level at Microsoft. “
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in 2012.
Ballmer’s story as CEO of Microsoft has had mixed results. But, while some will point out that Microsoft has missed out on key technological breakthroughs like the modern smartphone and search engine, Ballmer has helped triple Microsoft’s sales during his 14 years as CEO.
Discussing his time at Microsoft, Ballmer noted the long-term bets made, which positioned the company for its current market cap of $ 2.2 trillion.
“There’s a reason Microsoft is the second most valuable company in the world,” Ballmer said. “We have Windows and Office. We have our back-end technology, with servers. We have Xbox, and I had my replacement. [Satya Nadella] law. Succession is an integral part of this, and I have left my successor with the infrastructure to build a business in the cloud. “
Ballmer’s optimism returned to Intuit Dome, likening the building of the arena to the birth of Apple’s best product.
“When I think of this product – our new building – in a way, I compare it to the way Apple thought of the phone,” Ballmer said. “They didn’t try to design the cheapest phone. They didn’t say, ‘Let’s build a cheap product because it could sell a higher volume for a lower price.’
“They came with a premium approach,” he added. “They came in thinking of new ways of doing things. That’s what we’re doing here. It’s a high end building, and our fans aren’t going to suffer.”
Inside the new LA Clippers arena.
Source: LA Clippers
Across all sports, teams are bracing for a new way to leverage their product, especially after pandemic losses. Premium experiences never hurt, and the Intuit Dome will deliver a one-of-a-kind experience in the NBA.
The 18,000-seat arena will feature 44,000 square feet of LED lights for its halo-shaped video board, as well as technology that allows fans to purchase concessions and be automatically billed without using any money or Cards. Additionally, the Clippers will take advantage of four court-side cabins, a concept Ballmer borrowed from the National Football League.
“We’re pioneering the end-of-zone suite feel,” Ballmer said of the luxury offering.
The Intuit Dome will not be hosting hockey games. The building therefore has a ‘basketball geometry’, which means that it was built specifically to watch basketball games. The Clippers’ business operations will move to the Intuit Dome, and the team will also house their training center in the arena.
The Clippers estimate that the Intuit Dome will generate about $ 260 million in annual economic activity for Inglewood, including more than 7,000 full-time and part-time jobs. The Clippers have also pledged $ 100 million in benefits to the community.
“It’s a big market,” Ballmer said. “There are a lot of fans who can be Clippers and Lakers fans. But we want to tell you who we are. I think there are a lot of people in LA who identify with this notion of being the. oppressed, the person moving forward. It’s almost two LAs. It’s not just cinema and cinema. Our fans are crushers. “
“I am optimistic for our team,” added Ballmer. “I’m optimistic about the success of our team, and that optimism is a force multiplier. In many ways, the reason we did this is consistent with this optimism as a force multiplier approach.”
Paul George # 13 of the LA Clippers chats with owner Steve Ballmer of the LA Clippers after the game against the Utah Jazz in the Second Round Game 5 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 16, 2021 at Vivint’s SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Adam Pantozzi | National Basketball Association | Getty Images
As the interview drew to a close, Ballmer shared what he learned in his last leadership role. After announcing his retirement from Microsoft in 2013, he bought the second The LA team in 2014 for a record $ 2 billion. The team hit the market after the NBA banned former owner Donald Sterling from making racist remarks that became public.
In this world, wins and losses are critical. A new arena will only help the Clippers for a while. Ballmer is approaching his eighth season as owner of the Clippers, and the team is 346-208, including a sixth playoff appearance and a conference final appearance during that time.
Team President Gillian Zucker heads the business unit. Ballmer made a change of coach to the basketball side when the team parted ways with Doc Rivers last September, replacing him with Tyronn Lue. Ballmer also appointed executive Lawrence Frank to lead basketball operations.
Ballmer has also displayed his willingness to spend on talent. Next season, the Clippers spend 166 million dollars per season on player contracts, the third highest in the NBA. This represents a luxury tax bill of $ 88 million and includes the payment to stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of an average annual value of $ 44 million per season until 2025. These two agreements will expire one year after the planned opening of the Intuit Dome.
When asked to reveal the hardest thing to deal with as a sports owner, Ballmer replied, “Injuries – they happen. We’ve had an injury in Kawhi, and with that injury we don’t know. how long he’s going to be away this year. “
Ballmer went on to point out the improved “judgment and understanding of where and how I should be involved on the basketball side. I don’t decide who the 12th player on the list is. I’m not. not involved, and it was important for me to know I am not involved. This is not my way of adding value. I add value by asking questions.
When asked if he wants to own another team because the NFL might have an opening in Denver, Ballmer replied, “No – and my wife says,” You spend enough time playing sports already. “That’s it for me in sport.”
Ballmer is three years away from opening the future-proof Intuit Dome, allowing the Clippers to continue adding features as technology improves. This should align more revenue streams with sports betting and augmented and virtual reality experiences.
As Ballmer learned at P&G and applied at Microsoft, he said the plan was to continue betting for the long haul as a professional sports owner.
“And you don’t blink,” he said. “We won’t blink at the Clippers. We are going to constantly invest and make our team as good as possible. And in this new building, we are going to invest.”
Ballmer then left for another media interview, displaying his perpetual optimism.