Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has a disturbing new social experiment

When you come from the tech world, you have a disruption in your heart. Microsoft's former CEO is now tapping some disruptive depths.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

He can't win. He's not wearing any Clippers gear.

Screenshot by ZDNet

I miss Steve Ballmer.

It's all very well being bathed in the soothing tones and attitudes of current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, but there was something so oddly raw about the way Ballmer shrieked his way through the days.

Since leaving Redmond, Ballmer has done many things. Perhaps the most elevated is his ownership of a somewhat second-rate NBA team, the Los Angeles Clippers. (Disclosure: Golden State Warriors fan.)

Ballmer has tried his very hardest to make the team both relevant and involving. Indeed, he's been voted the best owner in the NBA. (And no, not by former Microsoft executives.)

His latest marketing idea, however, may cause some to chuckle unkindly.

It seems that Clippers fans aren't the most prompt in their attendance to games. Perhaps it's less an LA fashionably-late thing and more a do-I really-want-to-fight-the-traffic-and-wonder-whether-both-the-Clippers-stars-are-playing-tonight thing.

Worse, when they do finally turn up, Clippers fans don't seem to be the most effusive or enthusiastic. They leave that stuff to Ballmer himself.

I fear, though, that the team's owner may be feeling lonely in his excitement. For the team has launched something called the LAB Challenge.

I can already feel you wondering whether this might be some sort of genetic profiling of humans to see what it takes -- biochemically speaking -- to become a Clippers fan.

May I avert your concerns and replace them with new ones? The idea is to offer one lucky fan per game a $10,000 inducement to actually be enthusiastic.

More precisely, the LAB Challenge requires contestants to be in their seats fifteen minutes before tip-off, to wear Clippers apparel or accessories (or carry a Clippers sign) and to "defend our court from tip-off to the final buzzer."

Oh, Lordy. Ballmer wants you to be like Steve, right?

He's already become infamous for his large-handed thigh-grabbing predilections. He's already shown at least the same excesses of enthusiasm as he did at Microsoft.

And now he wants you to fake it for more than two hours? Just for the chance to win ten grand?

Perhaps you're a Clippers fan and find money always welcome. But isn't this a strange social experiment? How many people really want to act with obscene enthusiasm to make $10,000? And how many would do it to support the Clippers? (See disclosure above.)

I should warn you to analyze the small print very carefully before you try to fake it till you make it. It requires mandatory arbitration in the case of a dispute. That's a little too tech-world for my taste.

Oh, you can try to opt-out, but goodness, the requirements are onerous: "You can choose to reject this Arbitration Agreement by sending Sponsor a written opt-out notice ('Opt-Out Notice') by no later than November 23, 2021,  by mail to 'LAB Challenge' Contest Administration."

Have you seen how slow USPS is these days?

And the whole thing is so subjective. The criteria for success are: "(i) creativity; (ii) displayed the strength of fandom; and (iii) alignment with the LA Clippers brand."

It would surely have been easier to get promoted in Ballmer's Microsoft than to win this contest. Moreover, here there's also has a good behavior clause. Just in case the judges miss you offering your middle digit to the opposing point guard -- or owner --, one assumes.

One can, of course, admire the intentions here. But it's a tacit admission of the brand's shortcomings.

When the fans just aren't that into you, paying them may be the only option.

I wonder if all those Microsoft employees who rabidly cheered Ballmer's "developers, developers, developers" chants were all competing for a secret, special bonus.

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