SBD/August 19, 2014/Franchises

Steve Ballmer Introduced To Much Fanfare At L.A. Rally, Talks Clippers' Future

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Ballmer's speech fired up the fans, but Clippers players were excited too
New Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer yesterday at Staples Center "chest-bumped and high-fived fans at a whirlwind welcome rally," according to Ben Bolch of the L.A. TIMES. Ballmer touched on topics including the future of Senior VP/Basketball Operations and coach Doc Rivers, the "possible use of technology to enhance the fan experience," and "erstwhile co-owner Shelly Sterling's continued presence at games." Ballmer said of Sterling, "She and me and the NBA all agreed she can come to games as part of the purchase consideration and that's quite reasonable." When he was told that some people "lump Shelly in" with her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, Ballmer said, "The league is fine with their decisions, I took that as my guide and we're driving forward." Ballmer said of implementing technology to improve the fan experience, "The courtside seats, they pass out the statistics between quarters. Come on, there's got to be a better way that's more inclusive and more involving." He said that he was "hopeful" that something similar to Microsoft Surface tablets "could eventually be used" by fans at games. Meanwhile, he said that he has "not spoken with once-skittish sponsors about sticking with the Clippers, but he wasn't worried." Ballmer: "I'm a confident guy that we have a great product, I'm a confident guy that we're going to have a lot of viewership and fanship, and I'm confident in my ability as a salesman to get people fired up!" (L.A. TIMES, 8/19). Rivers said, "You can say what you want about Shelly, but without her, this deal does not get done. I think we have to understand that. The second part is she wants to be a fan. She’s no longer the owner. But she wants to be a fan. I’m fine with that. What’s wrong with being a fan?” (INSIDESOCAL.com, 8/19). Meanwhile, Ballmer "made it clear the Clippers will not move to Seattle or anywhere else." He said, "The L.A. in L.A. Clippers is not changing. Not under my watch" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 8/19).

LEARNING A NEW BUSINESS: Ballmer said he will "ask a lot of questions" regarding the business side of the franchise, but will let Rivers "lead the basketball side of the team." Ballmer: "Because of how we kind of got here, a lot more space has opened ... on the business side. I want us to be a first-rate organization as a business, as a basketball team, as a community citizen. We got a lot more work to do on that side actually." He said the organization "needs to put leaders in on the business side." Ballmer: "I am 'retired.' I'm not looking for a new full-time job. So we will strengthen and shore-up the business side." He noted interim CEO Dick Parsons will remain in his role for a "transition period" (Bloomberg TV, 8/19). Ballmer said of his outgoing, often loud and passionate personality, "If you want to be successful, you have to really care, you have to be passionate, you have to be hardcore. I don't know what that means in an owner context. I guess I'll have to learn" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 8/18).

OPENING TO RAVE REVIEWS: In L.A., Robert Morales notes the first 2,500 fans at the rally "received a commemorative T-shirt with the words 'It's a new day' on the back." The crowd was "going wild as Ballmer dazzled them with his incredible energy" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/19). Also in L.A., Bill Plaschke writes Ballmer "stole the show with a boldness that included everything from a guaranteed victory to a gratuitous shot at the Lakers." The rally was "perhaps the most bizarre yet appropriate introduction for an owner in this town's history." The players seated on the stage, including G Chris Paul and F Blake Griffin, "looked as bemused as inspired." Ballmer at times "came across as awkward and overbearing," but of all the things that "might have been lacking Monday, one thing existed in abundance." It was "unabashed Clippers pride." For the "first time, it seemed as if the Clippers were embraced not as the second team in town, but as the only team in town" (L.A. TIMES, 8/19). The L.A. DAILY NEWS' Jill Painter writes Ballmer was "so over the top it must be considered one of the best opening acts by a coach, athlete or owner." Painter: "Screaming won't win you championships, but it sure shows the passion Ballmer already has for the Clippers" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/19). In California, Jeff Miller notes Ballmer "violently high-fived as many fans as he could," and he "screamed repeatedly to the point where his voice or the microphone gave way." Ballmer also "led the crowd in various tent-revival chants with the style of a television evangelist but with more conviction" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 8/19). FS1's Cole Wright said Ballmer "took enthusiasm to a whole new level" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 8/18). ESPN's Steve Levy said it was a "celebration and a fresh start for a franchise in dire need of both" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 8/19). The AP's Beth Harris noted Ballmer's "fervor was in stark contrast" to Donald Sterling, who "never spoke to the media and was famously frugal when it came to spending on the team during decades of losing" (AP, 8/18). 

WATCH YOUR BACK, MARK: ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi wrote Ballmer "has the potential to be a louder, brasher version" of Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban. The looks on the "faces of fans and players when Ballmer was yelling and running through the crowd after being announced is something Sterling never experienced as an owner." Griffin said, "When he came through the crowd, I literally had goose bumps. I don't know if there's one good word to describe him. I know all our guys are excited about the energy he brings. It's completely different" (ESPNLA.com, 8/18). CNBC's David Faber said Ballmer is going to make Cuban "look like he's bored" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 8/19). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Freeman wrote Ballmer was "just a wee bit intense," and makes Cuban "look like" Pacers Owner Herb Simon (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/18).

THAT'S JUST WHO HE IS: CNBC's Joe Kernen said Ballmer had the "same act with Microsoft, and the stock price was stuck at $25 for like 16 years." Kernen: "I don’t know what that portends for the Clippers." But CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin said, "That's his thing. He's a sales guy" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 8/19). CNBC's Jane Wells said of Ballmer's performance, "It was like an old-fashioned Microsoft sales rally but was unlike anything these Clippers fans and players had ever seen as he fired up the troops." CNBC contributor and optionMONSTER.com co-Founder Pete Najarian: "He reminds me of Matt Foley, motivational speaker on 'Saturday Night Live'" ("Fast Money," CNBC, 8/18).
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