Monday, May 27, 2024

The sales of most professional sports teams are fairly predictable. They usually occur when owners die or cannot figure out how to transfer the team to their families, run out of money, are more focused on other pursuits, or are ousted due to misconduct. Once the decision to sell a team is made, the process plays out in a relatively public way. Bankers are hired, potential purchasers register interest, an auction occurs, and then there are weeks or months of reports in the news media that follow.

So it came as a complete surprise last month when, with no warning, the families that control the Las Vegas Sands casino empire announced that they had reached a binding agreement to buy a controlling interest in the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks from Mark Cuban. The only thing that made sense was that the situation involved Mr. Cuban, who has long run the Mavericks in an unconventional manner.

Still, more than two weeks later, the basic question surrounding the sale — Why did Mr. Cuban do it? — remains mostly unanswered. Mr. Cuban, who has always been known as a talkative owner, declined to speak on the record for this article. The Adelson and Dumont families also declined to comment beyond a statement expressing their excitement, citing the N.B.A. approval process.

What is clear is that the sale represents a window into the rapidly changing nature of the business of sports. When Mr. Cuban bought the Mavericks in 2000, they were mainly just teams. Now, they are anchors for larger business enterprises. They serve as anchor tenants for arenas that are at the center of vast entertainment complexes, anchors for regional sports networks, or anchor brands for millions of fans newly allowed to bet on sports.

Mr. Cuban has also said he intends to team up with Las Vegas Sands on a new arena and casino complex, indicating a possible motivation for the sale. If Mr. Cuban’s vision of a sports and gambling destination is to be realized, reforms in Texas may be required in addition to land acquisition and financing.

After the sale, Mr. Cuban will be in charge of the basketball operations of the Mavericks, even though the Adelson and Dumont families will hold the majority stake. This stipulation represents an unusual arrangement in the sale of a professional sports team, indicating a bet on the future value of the Mavericks as both a sports and casino destination.

Beyond the implications for the Mavericks, the sale also throws the race to own an N.B.A. franchise in Las Vegas wide open, as the city is widely expected to soon expand to 32 teams from 30. The T-Mobile Center currently stands as a contender for an N.B.A. team, but plans for a new resort and arena by Oak View Group add to the intrigue.

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