SBD/June 26, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

LeBron's Marketing Approach Leans Toward Calculated Partnerships, Not Endorsements

Prior to Heat F LeBron James winning his second NBA championship, his marketing reps "completely redefined the dynamic between a sponsor and celebrity endorser, at least in the realm of the iconic athlete," according to Michael Wilbon of ESPN.com. The perception in "some quarters is that he had a relatively low commercial profile on television during the playoffs." But in this day and age, the "bottom line means strengthening the brand, which may trump any other measurement in popular culture." A source involved in James' marketing strategy said, "It's the next level of involvement. It's not just your face on a product. It's an increasingly complex business relationship." Another source said, "It's not an 1980s-1990s construct. There is a mix. There are traditional relationships, like with McDonalds ... And there are less traditional or non-traditional relationships, like with Beats. The number of times an ad runs on television is no longer the end-all." Wilbon noted James' Beats by Dre commercial is "traditional in that it's a television ad, but is not traditional in a number of other ways." James "essentially came up with the idea and designed the company's first pair of 'sport' headphones." He also "picked the director for the shoot, selected the music and has a financial stake in the product." Meanwhile, Champs Sports has a "strictly digital relationship" with James, meaning "access to his Facebook page" and his website. Champs has "no television commercials, no print ads, by design." James also has a Dunkin' Donuts campaign that "appears only in China, Taiwan and the Philippines." A source said that James, who has deals in China with Sprite, Nike, Dunkin' Donuts and Beats by Dre, "sells as much product in China as he does in the U.S." James reportedly made $42M in endorsements last year, and his second title "will probably mean" a $5-7M increase in endorsements in '13 (ESPN.com, 6/25). James this summer will make a "trip to China for Nike" (MIAMI HERALD, 6/26).

WRITTEN IN INK: A Washington Post column yesterday questioned whether the Wizards should sign G John Wall to a max contract in part because of several large tattoos Wall has recently gotten. ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "If we're going to talk about tattoos and related to max contracts, I got one thing to say: LeBron James. Not only in terms of marketing, in case Mr. Wall is worried about that, because LeBron James at $42 million is making more off the court than anybody. ... Tattoos have no relevance to performance or marketability" ("PTI," ESPN, 6/25). ESPN's Bomani Jones said, "Keeping John Wall's body free of tattoos was less about the team and more about marketing dollars on an echelon that he won't be able to get" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 6/25).
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