King's Ransom: LeBron's Marketing Portfolio Booming As He Aims For Billion-Dollar Mark
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” (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 10/31).