Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks pulled the credentials of experienced ESPN reporters Marc Stein and Tim MacMahon this weekend under mysterious circumstances. There was no obvious motive for the Mavericks to do so, and Cuban hasn’t said much to clear it up—but he broke his silence this evening. Cuban told the Associated Press he banned MacMahon and Stein to stave off the advances of the encroaching robot sportswriter horde:
“Maybe I will be wrong but I see a direct path from the trends in coverage of games we are seeing over the last couple years to the automation of reporting on games and the curation of related content,” Cuban wrote in an email to the AP. “This isn’t a knock on wire services or their reporters. They are valued and valuable in sports coverage.”
“While it may seem counterintuitive to ban someone from covering us as a way of stopping automation, it really was my only option,” Cuban said. “As is evident by the AP partnership with Automated Insights, it’s not if but when.”
The AP does offer automated recaps of some minor league baseball games, but they don’t do so for NBA games. It’s not a legitimate concern right now, and even if Cuban has decided to take a stand against automated recappers, banning two human reporters is an obtuse solution. ESPN said that they will rely on wire services for recaps of games that they don’t send reporters to, so if anything, all Cuban is really doing is ensure that Mavericks game recaps are written by a wire service, such as the AP, and not ESPN. If his bone to pick is truly with robot sportswriters, ESPN is not the institution to take it out on.
We wonder if Cuban’s frustration here stems from his team receiving less coverage from the Worldwide Leader; MacMahon was a beat reporter until this season covering about 60 games a year, but he’s now a national reporter for ESPN. He and Stein are both based in Dallas, but neither writer’s primary job is to cover the Mavericks. Is Cuban trying to provoke ESPN into covering his team by banning their two national reporters? Either way, it’s a far cry from when Cuban banned bloggers because the Mavs’ locker room was “too crowded.”