A Minor League Owner With Major League Aspirations
Sunday, November 2, 2008
It was in the year after he sold his Web design company and became a multimillionaire that Brandt Andersen decided he wanted to own a sports team. He came to this realization one day while sitting in an office with his best friend from college. He liked sports. He had money. Why not buy a team?
The more they discussed it the less preposterous the thought seemed until Andersen picked up the phone, dialed the NBA in New York and said to the executive who took his call: "Hey, I just sold my tech company and I'm interested in owning a team. What are the possibilities?"
He was 28 years old and the man on the phone was not impressed. He told Andersen as much, pointing out to the young would-be sports mogul that there was a line for such things. If Andersen thought his sudden windfall made him worthy of joining the league's cabal of owners then he was free to take a place at the end of that line, where he would wait for a long, long time.
"I figured they would be happy to talk to me," Andersen recalled. "I figured they were interested in what I was selling. I was surprised they were a little turned off by me, quite frankly."
Now, three years later, he may be on his way to being the next Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks' flamboyant owner, because he took a chance and decided to become the minor league Mark Cuban. He bought an expansion franchise in the NBA Development League and is running it as if it were in the NBA, luring huge advertisers and signing a deal to put its home games on local television in just its first season. The NBA has come to see him as a legitimate piece of its future, the essence of what it desires in its newest group of owners, such as Cleveland's Dan Gilbert and Boston's Wyc Grousbeck, men who are dynamic, successful and entrepreneurial. Men unafraid to dream.
"We only thought of the D-League as developing players and coaches, we never thought of the league as developing owners, too," said Adam Silver, the NBA's deputy commissioner.
Andersen's team, the Utah Flash, plays at McKay Events Center, which seats 8,500 and appears to be a fine place for a D-League team to play. Yet Andersen wants a new 10,000-seat arena even though the Flash drew just 4,000 fans per game last year. But because you can't have an arena all by itself he wants to construct what looks like a small city around the arena on a dusty parcel of land alongside Interstate 15 in the town of Lehi, halfway between Orem and Salt Lake City, 40 miles to the north. The plot is just 100 acres and yet will have compressed onto it Andersen's gleaming new arena, a five-star hotel that will be the tallest building in Utah and rows of condominiums and stores that will rise on bridges over two man-made lakes.
And since a project like this could not be conceived by just anyone, Andersen hired Frank Gehry, one of the world's most famous architects, to design it. "Something mediocre has no fun for me," he said.
Andersen smiles assuredly. He is slender with intense dark eyes, high cheekbones and wavy hair that he keeps short on the sides. He looks younger than he even is, which is 31. Nothing seems to worry him. All around the economy is falling apart, stripping men like him of riches earned overnight. And yet he never talks about scaling back his hopes. After all, he started a technology company in the middle of the dot-com bust and made millions. Where others see disaster, he sees opportunity.
"I'm feeling really optimistic about things now," he said.