Not Their First Rodeo: Michael Dell and Silver Lake’s Egon Durban Gamble On Bull Riding
‘They just support us and let us do our job,’ JJ Gottsch, the Austin Gamblers general manager, tells CRN. ‘It’s absolutely fantastic.’
Michael Dell and Egon Durban are putting their own cash, a Dell Technologies sponsorship, and the company’s workstation laptops on the line with the professional bull riding team the Austin Gamblers.
And doubters beware, when it comes to bucking the trend, this is not their first rodeo.
Dell Technologies disclosed in its 2023 proxy statement that it had signed a three-year deal with the Austin Gamblers, a professional bull riding team based in Austin, Texas, close to the homes of both Dell and Durban. It’s a small bet by the standards of Dell Technologies: a total of $500,000 last year.
One Dell channel partner said the news that Dell has sponsored bull riding is – against all odds -- resonating in the market.
“I would have guessed that there wasn’t much overlap between PBR [Professional Bull Riders] spectators and Dell’s target audience,” said Rick Gouin, chief technology officer at Dell Technologies platinum partner Winslow Technology Group, headquartered in Boston. “That said, I was at dinner last night with the IT director for one of my largest customers, and he is a massive PBR fan and knew all about Michael Dell becoming an owner of the Austin Gamblers.”
PBR is a league founded 30 years ago that pits “the world’s top cowboys matched against the rankest bucking bulls on the planet.”
Joshua Lee, the chief technology officer at VirtuIT, a Dell Technologies partner in Nanuet, N.Y., had one question.
“Are they going to require the team to name any bulls APEX?” he asked, referring to the company’s cloud-based as-a-service offering.
JJ Gottsch, the Austin Gamblers general manager, told CRN the team only sees the bulls on the night before the ride, when five of the specially bred, one-ton, animal athletes are assigned to the team. Gottsch said it is easy to see the attraction to the sport for Dell and Durban. It is a high-stakes, adrenaline-fueled few seconds that tests agility and courage of both rider and bull.
“You can’t help but get behind these guys and get behind this sport,” he said.
Bull riding has the highest rate of injury of any rodeo sport, according to a study published by the Kansas Journal of Medicine called “Rodeo Trauma: Outcome Data from 10 Years of Injuries,” with a rate of getting hurt that is three-times higher than steer wrestling, the 2022 study stated.
“When you go to see one of these events live, and you get an opportunity to go down close to the dirt and close to the chute. You see and feel the immense power of these animal athletes, these immense bulls, and then look at these bull riders that typically weigh from 135 to 155 pounds on a bull that weighs from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds, the electricity, the energy, its wildly addicting,” he said. “Its definitely addicting for the riders. They don’t do it for the money.”
Since meeting in 2012, Silver Lake co-CEO Durban and Dell Technologies CEO and founder Michael Dell have bet billions that they understood the technology markets better than prevailing wisdom.
The two took Dell private in 2013 in a leveraged buyout worth $24.4 billion. In 2016, Dell Technologies -- where Duban has been a board member since 2013 -- bought EMC for $67 billion. Next, Dell completed the spin-out of VMware which hit the market fetching a $61 billion bid from Broadcom CEO Hock Tan. After Tan called Dell to make him an offer for VMware, Dell asked the semiconductor giant CEO to next call Durban, according to regulatory filings.
Dell’s trust in Durban is so complete that the only other entity outside of his family, which owns Dell Technologies shares with the same 10 to 1 voting power as Dell himself, is Durban’s Silver Lake.
The Endeavor Group Holdings, a sports and entertainment-focused investment firm which owns UFC and PBR since 2014, is also owned by Silver Lake.
And in April last year, Dell announced he was following Durban in taking a stake in the Gamblers.
“When you talk about Egon Durban and Michael Dell, you are talking about leaders in innovation,” Gottsch said. “One of the things that they charged us with is listen, ‘Let’s use that technology and innovation, lets use our network to be the best that we can be and give our team and riders the best advantage that we can.’ ”
He said the team employs Dell’s rugged laptop, which is designed to take punishment. It does.
“These things are virtually indestructible,” he said. “Guys that get on bulls for a living are not the most gentle people. The environments that we go to although most of the places we go are indoor arenas there’s 24 inches of dirt, heavy equipment, iron gates, its not delicate. For us it was the ability to have the technology where we can get different stats on the riders and the bulls.”
The team has an hour to crunch the numbers to see which of their riders have the best chance against which bulls.
“We have to do it right there at the arena. The ability to have our technology there, our computers there, pull up the bulls, pull up the stats, run different win scenarios, and percentage scenarios right there is kind of awesome,” he said.
The team bills itself as “the New York Yankees” of bull riding and, while they were stars of the Amazon Prime docudrama “The Ride,” the team finished second last year after a Cinderella run in the playoffs by the Nashville Stampede.
While Gottsch did just return from Brazil where the team invested in a new South American branch, signing three-time PBR World Champion Adriano Moraes, no Steinbrenner jokes, please.
“Completely the opposite of a Steinbrenner,” he said. “That’s something you see. Someone is really successful in business, and for their entire career they hired good people, and trusted them, for whatever reason when they get involved in sports they want to be the person who is out front.”
He said the Durban’s have told him to hire the best people and let them work.
“They just support us and let us do our job,” he said. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”
As to the origin of the team’s name, Gottsch keeps a poker face over the phone, and won’t say exactly who came up with “Austin Gamblers.”
“With Egon and Michael, the types of bets that they make and the risks,” he said. “I think when the Durbans were working on a name to epitomize the spirit of who these riders were, it’s that gamblers’ spirit. Those souls that conquered the west and went to these small towns and having the mentality to risk it all, which is, quite honestly what these riders do every day. So it was that, a little bit of folklore and a little bit of Texas.”