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On LeBron James as a brand

July 13, 2010

LeBron James held a quasi reality TV show wherein he announced he would go to Miami. It was something he knew for a long time, but positioned it as something he just dreamed up. This is reality TV at its finest, but that’s not the point of this post (if you want to read more on the reality TV aspect, go here).

The point is, no one will care.

Washington Wizards v/s Cleveland Cavaliers Nov...
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We seem to care now. It’s not hard to find someone who’s written that this is terrible for brand LeBron. That he was the king of Cleveland, and a shiny marketing pitch man who stayed out of trouble and if only he stayed in Cleveland, he would be rich(er).

What is interesting though, and what I haven’t seen written in too many places is this: what if it works?

Three big time free agents got together and went to one team. They talked, and picked Miami.

This is new. Normally, big-time free agents are part of the marketplace, and they use each other as competition to get a higher salary, and/or be the man somewhere.

One can’t fault a first time free agent from leaving a place. Rookies in most sports don’t get to pick where they play. They get drafted (a term, that if applied to the US government, would feel uncomfortable).

When they finally ‘earn’ the right to be in demand free agents, they get to pick based on three elements:

  1. Salary. Who will pay the highest.
  2. Location. Where do they want to play?
  3. Chance of winning.

When you analyze the choices to James, it seems like a good choice. He got his money, he lives in Miami, and with Wade and Bosh, he has a chance of winning.

But it feels wrong. It feels like these three guys did something wrong. And tactically, they may have. The special was dumb. The treatment of Cleveland was dumb (as was the comic sans response from the ownership).

But again, what if it works? If it does, this move will be celebrated. It will be hoisted up across all sports as an example. And if they win, all three will be marketable, despite the bad reality TV show, the poor manners, and the narcissism.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2010 2:37 pm

    Matt –

    There was an interesting story on NPR about the global implications of the deal.

    Basically, this wasn’t about LA, Chicago, NYC or Miami. It was about China. I know, huh?

    The expected market growth in NYC – 1 percent; in China – 15 percent. And, if companies want to succeed in China – they need champions to endorse their products. Apparently, in China, Kobe Bryant receives the most play in merchandise and media. Why? Because he has five rings.

    LeBron and his cohorts want a piece of that 15 percent. To earn it, they need a Championship. To earn a Championship, I guess they needed each other…Until next summer, it remains to be seen whether this approach will actually work.

  2. July 19, 2010 12:01 pm

    This is the first case where it was more about the players than the team brands. 20 years ago, people were fans of teams first, and players second. Ironically, the NBA was part of the shift. It was always Kobe Bryant of the Lakers takes on LeBron James of the Cavs. It’s clearly changed now, where three players go to one place to win. And I honestly think they will win. And get a share of that 15 percent.

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