Interview with Brandt Andersen, owner of the Utah Flash
The following is an edited transcript of an interview with Utah Flash owner Brandt Andersen, held in his office in the Riverwoods area of Provo, near the mouth of Provo Canyon. The office doubles as a showroom, and the glass walls reveal the scale model of the Frank Gehry-designed business, retail, and sports complex planned for development just a few miles up the road in Lehi. Architectural renderings and photographs of his other real estate developments fill the modern space amid skis, wakeboards, basketballs and memorabilia. A 42-inch flat screen hanging from the ceiling behind my head serves as a dual monitor
Provo, Utah – Monday, September 14, 2009
Salt City Hoops – You’re only 32 years old, how did you become an owner of a basketball team?
Brandt Andersen – After I sold my company [uSight.com], I was out skiing, wakeboarding, traveling, looking for something to do. I decided to call the NBA and see about buying a team. The NBA community is pretty small, and the only way in sometimes is to just buy your way in. I talked to the league and they suggested putting together a proposal for a D-League team.
It all came together fairly quickly, actually. We got our paperwork done, put our funding together, and it all worked out.
SCH – Did you put it together with the help of the Miller family?
BA – No. I mean, I knew Greg and Larry and the family and was a season ticket holder with the Jazz, but we put this together independently. I’ve always admired how they do things with the Jazz, and who the Millers are as people, so it’s been great to work with them. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Millers and Greg has done a great job ever since taking over. He’s had to make some tough calls, and he’s really stepped up. Signing CJ Miles, then the huge Paul Millsap contract. Those were huge decisions. He let the fans know that he’s willing the pay to keep players and bring in talent.
SCH – Some might view you as kind of the Mark Cuban of the D-League. Do you like those comparisons?
BA – Well, I don’t really think Mark and I are very alike, actually. I mean, you might make the comparison because we’re both younger and we’re both fans first, but Mark is a lot more outspoken than I am. I tend to be a bit more reserved. We’re both very competitive and like to win.
SCH – Is there an owner that you try to emulate? Did you pick things up from Larry Miller?
BA – I just try to be me. I’m not trying to be the next anyone, but I did admire the way Larry ran the team. I mean, I’m in the locker room, I’m on the sidelines at the games. I like to be very involved with the team. The great thing about owning a team is that you get a chance to find out how good you are every night. Every night you get to see where you stand.
SCH – On your blog the other day, you made the case that if you were advising a pro athlete you’d tell him to avoid social media at all costs – that it only has downside and the possibility of being a public relations nightmare, with no real upside. With the way the Boozer saga has turned out, don’t you think he could have benefited from communicating directly with the people?
BA – It’s possible, but on the other hand it could have been even worse. First of all, you need to know that I love Twitter; I love reading what these guys are saying. It’s great for fans, and it’s great for the writers. I mean, you’ve got Allen Iverson breaking the story on Twitter about signing in Memphis. It’s an incredible look into the world these guys live in, and I love it. But my point is that they’re always just one tweet away from embarrassing themselves and cost themselves a lot of money. For example, Nate Robinson gets pulled over and makes some ill-advised tweets and gets in trouble. J.R. Smith, same thing. So what happens? These guys are going to be in a club somewhere and some guy in their crew might have a gun and someone will take a picture and it’ll get posted all over. All of a sudden, you’ve got a problem. And it could have all been avoided.
SCH – So do you foresee any kind of ban, like the NFL?
BA – No, and in fact I’m not going to restrict what any of our players do in regard to Twitter and Facebook, etc. I saw that someone wrote that Eric Maynor wasn’t going to be able to tweet when he’s with the Flash, and that’s not right at all. The players can do what they want; I’m just saying that if I were their agent, I’d make everything come through a PR person. But if you do that, you’ve ruined the medium. No one is going to stick around if the agent is vetting everything. If you’ve got a 15 million dollar sponsorship deal, why would your jeopardize it with 140 characters of nonsense?
SCH – So you don’t think there is any value added to a player by becoming kind of an online celebrity?
BA – Not at all. Like I said, the only thing that really matters is if you can play, and you win on the court.
SCH – So it doesn’t matter when a guy like Rod Benson comes to town?
BA – Rod doesn’t draw at all. I love reading his stuff, he’s a great writer and a funny guy, but he doesn’t affect our gate at all.
SCH – So who does draw?
BA – It’s funny, when we started the Flash, we tried to run it and market the team like an NBA franchise. But we soon realized that it’s an entirely different model with minor league basketball. I mean, guys like you and me will come and watch anybody, because we’re junkies. But your average fan, even your average basketball fan, isn’t really coming out to see a specific player. We thought people would want to come see Morris Almond or any of the young NBA draft picks, but that’s not why they’re coming. Even in the summer league, when Kevin Durrant made his debut, it was packed the first night because it was at night against the Jazz. But the next day the gym wasn’t full while he played the next team. That tells me that it’s not about star power in this league.
I love to go to the Owlz games, but they’re about six steps below the Majors. We’re Triple A. They get nice crowds and everybody has a good time, so it’s not like anyone is going to Owlz games to watch a Barry Bonds-type performance. With us, people want to watch well-played basketball, to be close to the players, and have a nice evening with some friends. People may not know that if they come to Flash games they’ll probably get a chance to talk to the players. They can talk to Kosta, they can talk to Fes. It’s a great atmosphere with amazing access to the players.
It’s not even about local players, either. Even if we had someone like Travis Hansen on the team, I’m not sure it would change the crowd much. We’d probably get about ten people from his ward and that’s it.
SCH – You’ve got the open tryouts coming up. Did you come up with that?
BA – It’s a league-wide thing. It’s always pretty fun. I’ve actually thought about trying out one of these years [laughs].
SCH – Ha ha, nice. Couldn’t you just put yourself on the team?
BA – I think the league would probably frown on that [laughs].
SCH – What’s your overall philosophy or approach in business and as an owner?
BA – I only do things I’m passionate about. I’ve had some great business opportunities come my way that I’ve turned down, just because they weren’t things I’m passionate about.
SCH – What are you reading these days?
BA – Like sports sites? Or in general?
SCH – Both.
BA – I read the sites that cover the Flash and the Jazz, general basketball stuff. I love Henry’s work at espn.com. But mostly I read art books, art history books.
SCH – Wow, what are you into now?
BA – Right now I’m reading a biography of Caravaggio, the Italian artist. I collect a bit, too. I’ve got a disputed Rembrandt and some sculptures and a few other things. It’s something I really enjoy.
SCH – What’s the status of the new arena planned for the Lehi development?
BA – It’s on hold while the economy stabilizes. We’re constantly reviewing the status, and I really believe the economy is starting to pick back up. Hopefully we’ll be able to move forward soon.
SCH – The Miller family has the Motorsports Park in Tooele and the Tour of Utah, as well as a lot of other things. I know you’re big into water sports, etc. Do you have any plans to start something else along those lines?
BA – No, those things are my hobbies, and I’ve got great hobbies, but that’s what they are. If I do something else it’ll probably be more in the entertainment or music industry. I’m thinking of some kind of music venue for acoustic performances, kind of an unplugged sort of thing.
SCH – Anything I haven’t asked you?
BA – I think we covered everything, thanks for coming by.
[Editor’s Note: Andersen’s invitation to Stephon Marbury to play for the Flash came after this interview was conducted. Check out the recruiting tactics at Ball Don’t Lie.]