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Volume 24 No. 156

Marketing and Sponsorship

As focused as Heat F LeBron James “has been on his goal of winning NBA championships, he’s just as driven off the court about building a business empire and breaking the billion-dollar mark,” according to a front-page piece by Elaine Walker of the MIAMI HERALD. Coming off the “best season of his career, James needs no introduction to corporate America.” The reigning NBA MVP “had his pick of endorsement offers and business opportunities as the Heat sets out to defend its championship.” The first new deal “puts James as a brand ambassador" for the Samsung Galaxy Note II, which earlier this week launched ads featuring James during the Celtics-Heat NBA season opener. The Samsung deal is the “first of what is expected to be a series of new endorsements and business deals.” James’ income is “clearly on the upswing,” as brands "like winners, and it doesn't hurt that James resides in a top media market like Miami.” Industry experts “see potential opportunities for rounding out James’ endorsement profile in the areas of automobiles, financial services, retail and consumer products or packaged goods.” His largest endorsement deal is with Nike, which signed him to a $90M contract "when he entered the NBA," with an extension in '10 that "now pays him more than" $10M per year. Industry reports estimate that James’ deal with McDonald’s is worth $4M a year, while Coca-Cola pays him $16M "over six years to represent Sprite and Powerade.” He earns $6M from Upper Deck "over a five-year span," and has deals with State Farm, Dunkin’ Brands in Asia, and luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL: Unlike many athletes, James “made it clear early on that he prefers equity deals, not just endorsements.” James' partnership with Fenway Sports Group that gave him a minority ownership stake in EPL club Liverpool is "one of his most heralded deals." His business ventures “include a partnership with American Signature furniture and Beats by Dr. Dre, plus an ownership stake in Cannondale bikes.” James also is “an investor in two local start-ups: PureBrands, the Boca Raton company that launched Sheets energy strips, and UNKNWN, a lifestyle store in Aventura Mall launched by some of his old Cleveland buddies.” As a “leader in social media and an icon to fans, all it takes is a tweet from James to send an item flying off the shelves at UNKNWN.” With more than six million followers on Twitter and “more than 12 million likes on Facebook, James has an impressive reach.” Those figures are “why Carmex lip balm signed a partnership deal with James’ personal website.” Industry experts agree that James and others “are leading the way in these new business paradigms, much the same way Michael Jordan created the roadmap for athletes in business” (MIAMI HERALD, 11/2).

IS IT IN YOU? In West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick noted a reporter told LeBron “he should have sipped some Gatorade” after missing the last nine minutes of the Tuesday night's Celtics-Heat game due to cramps. But James reminded the reporter that "he’s not a Gatorade guy.” James endorses Powerade while his teammate, Heat G Dwyane Wade is “one of Gatorade’s leading endorsers.” Wade said, “That’s why he’s cramping. He needs some Gatorade. We got electrolytes and all that now” (, 10/31).

Rory McIlroy has “suddenly gone from merely a standout golfer to a global brand,” according to Alan Shipnuck of SI. McIlroy in the past year "grew up, as a person and a player.” His “metamorphosis began four months after the Open, when he fired his headline-making agent, Chubby Chandler, and went to a largely unknown boutique firm run by a dapper Dubliner named Conor Ridge.” The switch was a “bold move by a young man ready to take control of his career.” That McIlroy is “so different” from Tiger Woods in “so many ways has only stoked the public's fascination.” Ridge said, "The fans, the media, corporate sponsors, the tours -- they all want their piece. Tiger dealt with it by slamming down the shutters. That's not Rory's way. We're still struggling to find the proper balance." When McIlroy in May was “mired in his slump, he committed to play a heavy slate of tournaments this fall in Asia, thinking he might need them to salvage his season.” Last weekend's BMW Masters in Shanghai was the “first stop, and every detail of his trip was negotiated as part of the appearance fee, from a pretournament table tennis match for the cameras to hitting a golden golf ball at the glitzy, gaudy opening ceremony.” Shipnuck notes McIlroy during last weekend's tournament "was dodging questions" about a potential endorsement deal with Nike. The rumors of a 10-year, $250M Nike deal "began in the nether regions of the Internet -- golf industry message boards -- and quickly became accepted fact.” An alliance with Nike “makes sense in the context that Woods's longtime benefactor wants to own the dominant athlete in every sport, and McIlroy is that guy.” Such a “megadeal would give McIlroy the financial freedom to say ‘no’ more often but put him in the maw of the machine that helped create a public life for Woods that proved unsustainable” (SI, 11/5 issue).

THE BUDDY SYSTEM: In Jacksonville, Garry Smits wrote perhaps Woods “was a good recruiter” for Nike in courting McIlroy. The two have been “in the same group five times during the PGA Tour Playoffs and recently competed in an exhibition in China -- getting along like lifelong buddies each time.” The McIlroy deal “marks the third time in 12 years that the No. 1-ranked player in the world has left Titleist for Nike.” Meanwhile, there are reports that Titleist endorser Nick Watney “may also leave for Nike at the end of the year” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 11/1).

AdvoCare will become a full-season sponsor of Richard Childress Racing's No. 3 Nationwide Series car driven by Austin Dillon. The move, which was announced Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, is the latest expansion of the company's NASCAR involvement. AdvoCare first stepped into the sport in '11 when it sponsored the Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta. It then became a co-primary sponsor of the No. 3 car. This year AdvoCare signed on to become the title sponsor of the fall Sprint Cup race at Phoenix Int'l Raceway. Next year it will become a full-season primary sponsor of the No. 3. Elsewhere, AdvoCare also is the jersey sponsor of MLS FC Dallas and the naming-rights partner of the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Red Bull announced that it has signed Hornets F Anthony Davis to a sponsorship deal. Davis joins Clippers F Blake Griffin, Nets G Deron Williams, Celtics G Rajon Rondo and Wizards G John Wall in Red Bull's roster of NBA players (Red Bull).

WHAT'S THE TIME? WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY's Jean Palmiere reported former MLBer Randy Johnson is "signing on to be the North American ambassador for Ulysse Nardin, a Swiss watch brand." The company "created a special watch for Johnson called The Big Unit." The dial of the watch is "inscribed with the words Big Unit, there's a baseball on the second hand, and Johnson's number, 51, is on the bezel." Only 100 of the watches "have been made and they are being sold at the company's 55 authorized dealers in the U.S. as well as its two company-owned boutiques in Florida." The watch retails for $15,500. Johnson is now the third ambassador for the company overall, joining Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko and Indian cricket player Yuvraj Singh (, 10/31).

NEED A LIFT? Hertz will be an official sponsor for the Nov. 9 Battle On The Midway men's basketball game between San Diego State and Syracuse aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier. The rental car company's sponsorship is part of its Hertz for Heroes program, a project initiated last Veterans' Day by company employees with military backgrounds (Hertz).

HULK, SMASH: In DC, Sarah Kogod noted Nationals CF Bryce Harper is "featured in a new Under Armour commercial, where [he] is ... smashing bats, smearing eye black and generally looking intense" (, 11/1).