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Why the titans of tech should start playing ball

Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk yearns for the application of tech entrepreneurship to moribund sports franchises, following in the fancy footsteps of Mark Cuban. After all, sports is a social network of extraordinary proportions...

Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk yearns for the application of tech entrepreneurship to moribund sports franchises, following in the fancy footsteps of Mark Cuban. After all, sports is a social network of extraordinary proportions...

“I’d run any company; it’s completely irrelevant to me. It’s really about this drive to win.”

These are the words not of former junk bond king Michael Millken, but Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, founder of Slide, and, if the article in Sunday’s New York Times is to be believed, obsessive worker, utter non-materialist, extraordinarily steady boyfriend and patron of very ordinary chain restaurants.

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(This last item one can put down to Champaign, Illinois, where Mr. Levchin studied. Champaign has one fine restaurant, Bacaro, owned by one of Mario Batali’s former interns, Thad Morrow. And many restaurants that can best be described as offal repositories.)

Winning is an art. And, as is true of any art, you can only define it once you decide on the perspective from which you’re looking at it.

Would you want to be a winner like, say, "American Idol" Taylor Hicks? (Please slip “Do I Make You Proud?” onto your iPod in order to reach your considered verdict.)

So it is fair, I hope, to wonder why it is that many tech winners, having conquered their world, have no greater imagination than to behave like video gamers who simply want to get to the next level in the same game.

Is that really winning?

If you truly don’t care, as Mr. Levchin claims, what you win at, or how you win, then, well, call me weird, but where is the joy?

You might as well be Taylor Hicks. Or the German football, er soccer, team who have won the World Cup, but never with anything other than cynical, unlovable, unloved detachment.

Thinking about that German team and, by contrast, some of the sublime squads from Brazil makes me wonder why Mr. Levchin and other great tech titans are not putting some of their talent and money into bringing sporting success to the place they live, the Bay Area. His former colleagues certainly seem to enjoy shooting very expensive rigs into space and investing in an array of remarkably out-there ventures..

Understandably, not everyone loves sports. But everyone loves it when their city or country is winning. Especially if they are winning with rather more flair than your average CFO’s thought process.

In recent weeks and months, residents of the Bay Area have had to endure the mediocrity of the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s being surpassed only by the decrepitude of the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers.

When you look who owns these franchises, you see an older gentleman who seems to have made a lot of money out of property, an older gentleman who seems to have made a lot of money out of supermarkets, an older gentleman who seems to believe Jerry Lee Lewis was a snappy dresser and a middle-aged lady who seems to have been given control of her team only because her brother got caught up with somewhat shady people in Louisiana’s gambling world.

I am not being ageist or sexist here. I am being modernist.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel a closer and more overt connection to modern business talents like Mr. Levchin through something a little more moving than creating widgets for sharing images on Facebook? (Please don't get me wrong. They are amazing widgets.)

Snaps from under center, for example?

Today’s tech leaders believe they are affecting the way the whole of society functions. Would it be so wrong for them to bring their massive self-confidence (I’m using polite phrases here) to the biggest social network in the country?

The one that cares about sports.

Perhaps Mr. Levchin has good memories of Dinamo Kyiv, his original hometown team who, for a time, played some of the most beautiful soccer in Europe and very often stuck it to the arrogant apparatchik monkeys from Moscow.

Would he not be moved, as residents of the Bay Area surely would, by helping to re-create a must-be-there atmosphere at, say, the 49ers? Moved not just in a business sense, but in a human sense.

The team is already talking about moving to Santa Clara County. What if he got together again with his PayPal pal and Facebook investor Peter Thiel and made the current owners an offer they could not refuse?

Given the way the 49ers are playing, it would surely feel like a start-up.

Of course, some would say that sports is a business full of huge egos and aberrant, arbitrary occurrences.

And tech is a repository of the modest, mousy and predictable, isn’t it?

Wouldn’t it be fun to have the very finest young business brains running the most emotional local business?

Then, surely, we wouldn’t just hear about “this drive to win." We would actually share it and enjoy it.

Chris Matyszczyk has spent most of his career as an award-winning creative director in the advertising industry. He advises major global companies on marketing and creativity. Chris has also been a journalist, covering the Olympics, SuperBowl and other sporting events. He brings a non-techie's perspective to the tech world and a sharp wit to the rest of the world. Check out his "Pond Culture" blog.