Is Apple too geeky to understand sports? It is an audacious claim, I know. How in the world could the coolest, hippest tech company in the world, with Beats and Dr. Dre in-house, possibly be geeky? Take a look at Apple’s Executive Team and Board of Directors. Suddenly it becomes very clear. It just may be that Apple’s corporate culture simply does not understand or value sports the way it should. These guys may be the hipsters of tech, but this is Silicon Valley, not blue collar Boston. To help the cause, Mark Cuban should be enlisted to Apple’s Board of Directors. No one at Apple has the combined tech and sports skill set Cuban does. Cuban would prove an invaluable asset for Apple constructing their own content and streaming services.
When groups like Green Peace started attacking Apple on the environmental front, Apple quickly recruited former Vice President, Al Gore. Almost immediately the hammering on Apple’s manufacturing and business practices became a dull whisper. Within a few years Apple became the clear leader of best practices for the environment. Whether Gore’s position on Apple’s Board was merely symbolic, political or he actually became the hands-on guy pursuing environmental solutions for Apple, it was immaterial. The fact Gore was amongst the leaders in championing environmental concerns, and had a powerful presence within Apple, delivered the end result Apple was seeking. Cuban could effect Apple in a similar fashion, adding significant value and expertise in entertainment, sports and streaming services — all areas where Apple seems to flat.
Cuban has a rare mix of technology, media and business know-how. He has run a string of operations that have turned to gold. Such know-how could certainly aid Apple in pursuing their push to becoming a producer of original content. But perhaps Cuban’s largest contribution would be in the area of understanding the true driver of cable television subscriptions – live sports.
Apple’s gaming platform is stronger than ever, but it was not always this way. With the advent of iPhone and iPod touch, Apple stumbled into the gaming market, but quickly caught on and promoted iOS as the premier mobile gaming platform. The overarching problem for Apple was the culture was not one of gaming. We don’t hear of Apple execs who are obsessed with gaming like Steve Jobs was with music, a self-proclaimed audio-file. Apple’s Board consists largely of aging corporate suits, while Apple’s VP's aren't exactly in-the-know about Naughty Dog or Rockstar North gaming titles. If Apple wants to heavily pursue cord cutters with content, avid and loyal sports fans are the target market, but Apple seems almost allergic to this fact. Cuban would be sure to open a few eyes, quickly unveiling the value of live sports — and show Apple how to get there.
College football is about to kick off another mind-blowing revenue season. Last season generated as much as $4 billion in revenue for the NCAA. This figure is staggering and outpaces the NHL, while nipping at the heels of the NBA. Apple’s virtually unlimited resources allow it to outbid any network in the market for exclusive content. Live Sports would instantly build a loyal, high-paying base of users, hooking them into other mini-content bundles offered along the way.
There are, of course, any number of approaches to how Apple could pursue steaming services, but pursuing the Top Gear trio for a rumored £160m, only to be outbid by Amazon's £250m isn't any different than Netflix, HBO or Google’s approach to building out IP television services. Creating original canned content is a costly hit or miss approach to building out a network. Moreover, audiences typically tire within a few seasons, leaving creators quickly seeking another hit, with dozens of duds along the way. Why Apple would not spend a few billion gaining access to league sports, creating an instant base of Apple TV users and subscribers is somewhat baffling. At the very least, it could quickly put pressure on Disney's ESPN, or cause them to play nice. Apple needs help in this area.
Looking at Cuban's career and personality, he is a perfect fit for Apple. He is a rebel, he thinks different, he is driven and creates success where ever he goes. Cuban would never allow Apple to become a “me-too” content provider, but instead open eyes to Apple’s blind spot – live sports.
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