SBD/Issue 172/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

NBA Might Love LeBron-Kobe Finals, But Would League Sponsors?

Bryant, James Endorse Nike, Vitaminwater,
But Rivals Adidas, Gatorade Sponsor NBA
The NBA's "dream Finals matchup" of LeBron James and the Cavaliers against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers would "result in massive buzz, bigger TV ratings -- and a nightmare for two of its biggest sponsors, Adidas and Gatorade," according to Jeremy Mullman of AD AGE. adidas and Gatorade are both league sponsors, while James and Bryant are the "two most prominent endorsers of their archrivals, Nike and Coca Cola's Glaceau." Glaceau's Vitaminwater has been airing a spot featuring fans "bickering over which player is superior and inviting viewers to follow the 'Great Debate' on Facebook," while Nike is airing a series of ads featuring "Muppet-like likenesses of the two." Mullman noted if both James and Bryant "manage to lead their teams to the NBA Finals, as expected, those efforts will likely be magnified exponentially by a media narrative that's likely to obsess over all things Kobe and LeBron." Meanwhile, Magic C Dwight Howard is an adidas endorser, and Leverage Agency CEO Ben Sturner said, "I guarantee you that Adidas is rooting for Orlando" (ADAGE.com, 5/22). SI.com's Steve Aschburner wrote the NBA wants a Lakers-Cavaliers Finals because it would "mean fat ratings for its game telecasts and an easy boost in jersey sales and global popularity." ABC and ESPN want the matchup because "those ratings points can translate into advertising dollars." Meanwhile, sponsors desire it because the "money they spend on commercial time (and big endorsement fees to [Bryant and James] in particular) more likely will be returned to them, plus, in sales of sneakers and vitamin-laced bottled water" (SI.com, 5/26).

PUPPET MADNESS: The Magic defeated the Cavs 116-114 in overtime last night to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, and in Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes Howard "will finally begin to be treated like the superstar he is" with a conference title. Bianchi: "This is the only way Nike will know it should have locked up Dwight years ago, put him in that puppet commercial." Howard prior to Game Four closed a blog entry on his Web site with, "I guess I gotta go watch another one of these LeBron and Kobe commercials on TV" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/27). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay wrote the Magic beating the Cavs is "not supposed to happen." Gay: "Think of poor Nike. They've committed millions of dollars to that fancy ad campaign featuring trash-talking puppets of LeBron and Kobe Bryant. They don't have enough felt to stitch together a trash-talking Dwight Howard puppet" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/26). Meanwhile, with the Nuggets-Lakers Western Conference Finals series tied at 2-2, FanHouse.com's Jay Mariotti said, "Memo to the Vitaminwater and Nike people. What about [Nuggets F] Carmelo Anthony? It's Kobe versus LeBron, the Nike puppets. Where's the Carmelo puppet?" ("Around the Horn," ESPN, 5/22). CNBC's Darren Rovell reports Vitaminwater execs "are scrambling to figure out how to update their Kobe vs. LeBron spot" if their clubs fail to advance to the NBA Finals. If Magic face the Nuggets in the Finals, Vitaminwater is expected "to utilize both Howard and [Nuggets G Chauncey] Billups in some sort of spot" (CNBC.com, 5/27). Anthony said of a Nuggets-Magic Finals, "That would make a lot of people really mad" (SI, 6/1 issue).

James Guarded Against Cramps Before Game
Two, But Is That Vitaminwater He's Drinking?
CRAMP-ING HIS STYLE: TNT's Craig Sager during Friday's Magic-Cavaliers Eastern Conference Final Game Two noted James suffered from dehydration at the end of Game One, and "to make sure everything went well, the ballboys had three bottles of fluids for his pregame ritual" ahead of Game Two. James "drank those three bottles within two-and-a-half minutes" three hours before the game. Footage was shown of James shooting before the game, and the three bottles included two Gatorade bottles and one water bottle from Coca-Cola's Dasani brand ("Magic-Cavaliers," TNT, 5/22). James said prior to Game Two, "I never drink Gatorade. Just Vitaminwater" (THE DAILY).

LEBRON LOVE: The ORLANDO SENTINEL's Bianchi Monday wrote under the header, "LeBron James Hype Is Out Of Control." James hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer during Friday's Game Two, but "from listening to all the hoopla, you'd think it was the greatest shot since William Tell split the apple sitting atop his son's head." Bianchi: "Don't get me wrong, this is not LeBron's fault. He is an exceptional player, but the fawning fans, media and refs are making everybody sick of him. A classic case of LeBron LeBurnout. And if you haven't caught it, it's only because you haven't turned on ESPN since his buzzer-beater in Game 2. From hearing the commentators coo over him, you'd have thought LeBron had just scored the winning goal for the 1980 U.S. hockey team" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/25). In St. Petersburg, John Romano writes James has the "TV commercials, the scoring title and the MVP award. ... He may even have traces of Michael Jordan in his basketball DNA." Romano: "But, the reality is, until James wins an NBA title, it looks like so much decoration" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 5/27).

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? In West Palm Beach, Chris Perkins reported the Magic for Sunday's Cavaliers-Magic Game Three at Amway Arena "put blue T-shirts on the seats in one half of the arena and white T-shirts on the seats in the other half to create a blue-white scene." The effect "wasn't as cool as the idea, but it was a good effort" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 5/24).

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