Mark Cuban: Dispute with ESPN rooted in automated content

DALLAS (AP) Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says his decision to revoke the credentials of two ESPN writers who cover his team was driven partly by concern that automated game reports could eventually replace human-generated content.

Cuban said Monday that he banned Marc Stein and Tim MacMahon from Mavericks home games to bring attention to the issue of companies using automation in sports coverage.

The Associated Press, in a partnership with Automated Insights, produces automated stories on minor league baseball but does not use the technology for most of its sports coverage. The AP has at least one reporter at all games in the four major professional sports and most major college football and basketball games.

''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.''

The billionaire who made his fortune through internet technology said his action wasn't prompted by ESPN's plan to cover the Mavericks, which he said he wasn't changing.

Cuban said he responded after learning that ESPN was relying on wire services for game coverage on 19 NBA teams. Barry Bedlan, AP's sports product manager, said ESPN ''has relied on us for years.''

''Nothing has changed from our perspective and there are no plans to change that,'' Bedlan said.

Cuban said he was responding to what he considers a disturbing trend of reporters being replaced by machines.

''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.''

ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz declined to comment on Cuban's claims, referring to a statement Sunday when the network said it was ''committed to thoroughly covering the Mavs and the NBA.'' A league spokesman didn't return a message seeking comment Monday.

MacMahon has covered the Mavericks primarily for several years but has spent more time in other cities this season. Stein joined ESPN as a national NBA writer in 2000 after previously covering the Mavericks for the Dallas newspaper. Both reporters are based in Dallas.

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