SBD/Issue 204/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

Decision Day: Has LeBron's Ego Gotten The Best Of His Actions?

Some Feel Carter (l) Has Been In Over His Head
In Handling Of James' Free Agency Process

LeBron James' announcement tonight on ESPN about which team he will join caps a "slow, cynical churning of manufactured drama that sports has never witnessed," according to Adrian Wojnarowski of YAHOO SPORTS. As far as historic moments go, this is the "Rushmore of basketball hubris and narcissism." James' advisory group, led by LRMR Marketing CEO Maverick Carter, is "having the time of its life, but has no idea the repercussions of what it's done." The six teams that "marched into the presentations and listened to some of the foolish and naive questions asked of them believed these kids had no idea what they were doing, or what they had gotten themselves into." Carter, James' childhood friend, in the past five years has "pushed one agent -- Aaron Goodwin -- and one advisor -- William Wesley -- aside because he wanted to be the voice in James’ ear and the one getting credit on the masthead." Wojnarowski: "So far, Carter’s been a superstar at spending James’ money on LRMR, but now he’s getting the company name out there and turning LeBron into Mr. July" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/7).

RUNNING WITH THE WRONG CROWD? In Akron, Marla Ridenour writes that LRMR obtained sponsorship for tonight's announcement on ESPN, with all proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, "seems self-serving." In promoting James' cause, his representatives have "flexed their marketing muscle in James-sized fashion" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 7/8). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes it "would be easier to applaud" the donation to charity "if it did not smack of attention deflection, using a charity to run interference just so folks don't think Bron-Bron is too-too big for his britches" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/8). ESPN.com's Bill Simmons writes, "He has remained fiercely loyal to his high school friends, but at the same time, he's surrounded by people his own age who don't stand up to him and don't know any better. Picking anyone other than Cleveland on this show would be the meanest thing any athlete has ever done to a city. But he might" (ESPN.com, 7/8). FOXSPORTS.com's Jason Whitlock wrote under the header, "Blame LeBron's Entourage For This Mess." James is "not going on ESPN tomorrow without a game-changer, a justification for this two-years-long ego stroke." But if he does, Carter "better prepare for a media-stitched clown suit that will make Ronald McDonald jealous" (FOXSPORTS.com, 7/7). In Chicago, Ed Sherman: "It's hard to believe somebody in his camp really thought it was a good idea for Mr. James to stage his announcement on ESPN Thursday night. There are few things the public detests more than athletes who like to call attention to themselves. This certainly has to rate as a look-at-me moment" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 7/8).

GETTING OUT OF HAND: In New Jersey, Dave D'Alessandro writes the "free-agent market in any sport is always a shameless function of ego." Now the "grand prize, a young man who refers to himself as The King, has concluded his vainglorious quest to keep our attention as he decides that he is either going to take one billionaire’s money or another billionaire’s money" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 7/8). ESPN's Jackie MacMullan said, "I'm a big fan of LeBron James but really, a one-hour special for a guy that hasn't really done anything? Truly, it's just unbelievable. It's unfathomable, yet we're all part of feeding the beast. We created this monster, and he's just playing along" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/8). FANHOUSE.com's Jay Mariotti wrote, "Staging his own reality TV show proves only that he can promote himself better than all the rest. Other than benefiting a charity and ESPN's ratings, I can't think of a good reason to do this." James would do "severe damage to his image if he spent an hour ditching the poor people in Cleveland" (FANHOUSE.com, 7/7). WashingtonPost.com's Dan Steinberg: "If you have an hour-long program just to jilt ... the city you grew up in and became a star in, it makes you look like even more of an egomaniac. ... There's a huge media backlash on this thing right now" ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 7/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Gregg Doyel wrote James' announcement is "an hour-long mental masturbation about the wonder of LeBron" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/7). In N.Y., Ken Belson asks, "When does exposure turn into over-exposure?" (NYTIMES.com, 7/8).

Critics Feel James' Image Has Taken A Hit
With Manufactured Drama Surrounding Decision

HAS HIMSELF TO BLAME: FANHOUSE.com's Kevin Blackistone wrote under the header, "Free-Agent Circus Stains LeBron's Image." James over the past few weeks has "made himself as easy to dislike as he'd made himself over several years easy to like." He has "made it look as if everything in it is about him, and he is unnecessarily turning himself into a villain" (FANHOUSE.com, 7/7). In N.Y., Harvey Araton notes critics have complained that the "process has become unflatteringly self-indulgent." Author Buzz Bissinger, who helped write James' biography in '09, said, "I'm disappointed because I think he's handled this terribly. I hate the idea that he is the king and that all these grown men have had to grovel in front of him. It's a side of him I didn't see before" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/8). Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said, "This doesn't make him look real good in the eyes of old-school purist people at all and they're going to doubt what his real intention is" ("PTI," ESPN, 7/7). SI.com's Michael Rosenberg wrote, "Free agency was never a means to an end for James. It was an end unto itself." James and his reps were "convinced that he needed the whole world to hang on his future" (SI.com, 7/7).

TWITTER DISAGREES WITH THE PLAN: Several pundits have taken to Twitter in question of James' strategy and how it will affect his reputation. ESPN’s Jay Crawford writes, “No matter what he does his image will be scarred badly here. no matter cleveland, ny, miami chicago whatever. he looks bad.” Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd: “LeBron's ego shows entering spotlight: Where have you gone, LeBron James?” The Big Lead’s Tyler Duffy: “LBJ purports himself to be global icon, behaves like overgrown teenager w/amateur PR team who wants attention.” N.Y. Daily News’ Frank Isola: “Too bad LeBron didn't put this much thought and energy into Game 5 against Boston.” Golf World’s Ron Sirak: “Wherever Lebron James goes becomes my least favorite sports franchise in the known universe. What a classless, self-promotional stunt.” ESPN L.A.’s Arash Markazi: “If LeBron leaves Cleveland, this one-hour special is the equivalent buying TV time to publicly file for divorce and commit to someone else.” AP’s Tom Withers: “I can't imagine LeBron going on national TV and embarrassing his hometown. That would be evil.”

MADE-FOR-TV DISASTER: In Detroit, Mitch Albom writes, "Only in America could we keep inventing reality TV that fantastically outshames the previous low mark." Albom: "You want to give to charity, quietly write a check. Don't get a network to do it for you so it gets to pump its shows and you get to shower yourself in international coverage -- while calling it philanthropy. The NBA has embarrassed itself here. The media have embarrassed themselves. And a guy who calls himself 'King' may be beyond embarrassment, which is truly embarrassing" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 7/8). In L.A., Jerry Crowe: "Americans love reality TV, but LeBron James' ego-driven Thursday night spectacle is sure to alienate" (L.A. TIMES, 7/8). SNY's Marc Malusis: "It's self-aggrandizing the way that it's gone about and now we have to watch an hour-long special" ("The Wheelhouse," SNY, 7/7). In Portland, John Canzano: "What we have here is an after-school special on ego starring the NBA free-agent who has lots of personal hardware, zero championships" (Portland OREGONIAN, 7/8). ESPN.com's Tim Keown wrote the "stupidity surrounding LeBron is exceeding the stupidity surrounding the last two Brett Favre retirements" (ESPN.com, 7/7). USA TODAY's Mike Lopresti: "Long ago, this got out of control, a circus fanned by a communication age that can't pause long enough to tell the difference between perspective and endless prattle" (USA TODAY, 7/8).

WREAKS OF EGO: SI's Jack McCallum writes James, "drunk on the magnificence of his own LeBron-ness, is utterly clueless of how ridiculous this whole process has been, the monumental amount of self-importance attached to scheduling a one-hour show when you have zero championship rings" (SI.com, 7/8). In N.Y., George Willis writes, "LeBron James will enjoy his ultimate diva moment tonight" (N.Y. POST, 7/8). In Ft. Lauderdale, Ethan Skolnick: "You can't spell James without 'Me,' and it's more difficult to defend James for this arrogant exercise than it is to defend him in the pick and roll" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 7/8). In Philadelphia, Ashley Fox: "I am so sick of LeBron James. I mean really, who does he think he is?" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 7/8). In Seattle, Jerry Brewer: "This case of overexposure completes the cycle of entitlement for James" (SEATTLE TIMES, 7/8). In New Jersey, Al Iannazzone: "This whole thing has been a farce" (Bergen RECORD, 7/8). A BOSTON GLOBE editorial states, "The wooing of James has been an embarrassing nationwide courtship ritual." The displays of "desperate obsequiousness directed" at James "serve as uneasy reminders of the often outsized role of sports in American culture" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/8). In San Jose, Cam Inman writes "catering to superstars is the norm," but when one of the NBA's top free agents "gets an hourlong, prime-time television special to announce his next employer/partner/beneficiary, that simply is absurd/individualistic/grossly enabling" (SAN JOSE MERCURY-NEWS, 7/8).

Van Gundy (r) Feels Free Agents Have Done
"Masterful" Job Of Creating Publicity For Themselves

MARKETING GENIUS: In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty writes tonight's special is "pure marketing genius." Daugherty: "James isn’t an athlete. That’s too confining. He is a 'brand.’ So while some of us shake our heads at the nonsense of turning a career decision into a prime time TV production, others of us marvel at the way LeBron is playing the game. And we’re not talking basketball" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 7/8). ESPN.com's Simmons writes, "What a week for LeBron's brand. ... LeBron's team wanted to keep people talking and promote his website, and really, that's what happened. The man nearly exploded Twitter and melted ESPN. He transcended free agency, the World Cup, everything. He will draw a massive television audience tonight; he's the only professional athlete who could have pulled that off" (ESPN.com, 7/8). In Houston, Jerome Solomon writes criticizing James for "convincing so many millions to be enamored with his every meaningless move would be like disparaging Will Ferrell because he has convinced millions to pay millions to watch his alleged-to-be-funny comedies." Solomon: "We live in a world in which for sport we throw daggers at those who get rich doing things we either wouldn't do or wish we had thought of first. ... Why take this stuff so seriously?" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/8). Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of the impact on the NBA, "I just think this free agent thing has been a masterful publicity opportunity for all of them. They've done a great job of creating more interest in this brand" (CLEVELAND.com, 7/7).

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: NBA.com's David Aldridge said, "This is about the new generation and this is about the new social media and how you project yourself, and I understand that with LeBron, but ... this cuts both ways and when you make the publicity train run on your schedule when the news is good, just remember it comes back and falls on you when the news is bad. That's why I'm a little reluctant to embrace this whole thing that's going on" (NBA TV, 7/8).

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY: In Chicago, Phil Rosenthal writes James, his marketing team and perhaps even the Boys & Girls Clubs "would have fared better if he and LRMR had seized control of the drama from the start." If they had "been on top of this," his newly launched website "would have tracked his whole courtship process. He could have kept an ad-supported video diary, including behind-the-scenes video of meetings with franchises." Rosenthal added, "Of more importance from a business standpoint, fans would have been invited to register to vote for their team and receive updates through e-mail and Twitter, creating a valuable marketing database" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/8).

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