SBD/July 2, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Can LeBron James Touch Michael Jordan's Mantle As NBA Endorsement King?

James' negative rating has improved after "The Decision" sent it soaring
While Heat F LeBron James is “king among those currently on the court, Michael Jordan remains the rock-star of endorsers," taking in $80M annually a full decade after retiring, according to Craig Davis of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. Even if James “closes the gap in championship rings,” Baker Street Advertising Senior VP & Exec Creative Dir Bob Dorfman “doubts James will catch Jordan in marketability.” Dorfman said, "Jordan has kind of got this mythological magic about him." While James “remains a polarizing figure, sports fans -- at least those outside of Cleveland -- are warming to him.” James’ Q Score has “increased ... among sports fans," while his negative rating, which had soared after "The Decision," settled to "about what it was" in '10. Schafer said, "I think he certainly has done a good job in repairing his image with sports fans.” Meanwhile, James ranks very low “in likeability among 3,000 celebrities on the Celebrity DBI.” James' influence as a celebrity is "comparable to Will Ferrell and Matt Damon,” while his rating as an endorser is "similar to Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro.” James' image rehabilitation is "likely due in large part to his accomplishments over the past two seasons, but may also reflect how he comes across in commercials, such as those for Samsung's Galaxy Note II that shows a lighter side.” His popularity is “strong internationally with a new deal as ‘brand ambassador’ for Dunkin Donuts and Baskin-Robbins in China, Taiwan, India and South Korea.” He also will “grace the cover" of 2K Sports' "NBA 2K14." Dorfman said that an increase in James' endorsement earnings “may come more from expanding interests with his current sponsors than adding new ones, and may involve more in the way of equity deals than pitching products” (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 6/30).

: ESPN's Darren Rovell said Nike "knows that dwelling on those who won't ever forgive him for 'The Decision' means giving up those that are the fans of the greatness of LeBron." The company this year released more than 20 different versions of his LeBron X signature shoe, "most of which sold out." Rovell: "The rest of his endorsement portfolio, reportedly worth more than $40 million annually, has been strangely quiet. … James has plenty of deals with blue-chip brands, including Samsung, Coca-Cola, State Farm and McDonald's. But they haven't used James recently in TV campaigns. A deal with McDonald's hasn't produced any TV advertising since ... the fall of 2011. What is hard to understand is this: How was it that the only company running a commercial featuring James in the playoffs was this one by Beats By Dre?" Rovell noted that James' second NBA title "should put pressure on his current sponsors to use him more and it gives a greater sense of urgency for those companies sitting on the sidelines" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/1).
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