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Reverberations from 'The Decision'?

What may prove to be the most 'decisive'? moment of LeBron James' life has passed. The buzz has died down a bit, and to a smaller degree, the outrage has even started to lessen. But, I've been wondering from a marketer's POV, what was the immediate impact of LeBron's choice besides the $6MM salary cut, the burning jerseys in Ohio and the catalogs of negative commentary? #1 ' People Watched In a media world fueled primarily by ratings, The Decision delivered as 9.95 million people tuned in, according to Nielsen ratings. That's the highest rating of this calendar year for ESPN for a non-NFL broadcast according to the Wall Street Journal, which compared the broadcast's 9.6 rating with other recent notable athlete interviews. '[It] dwarfed other athlete-related spectacles. ESPN's telecast of Tiger Woods's first public comments about his marital infidelities scored a 1.3 rating, while its exclusive March interview with him posted a 0.4 rating. ESPN's interview last February with Yankees star and admitted steroid user Alex Rodriguez generated a 0.9 rating.'? #2 ' LeBron = Money The biggest winners of the LeBrocalypse were clearly the Miami Heat whose season ticket allotment sold out before LeBron even sat down with Jim Gray, but they're not the only ones who benefitted financially form the spectacle. The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls both sold nearly 3,000 new season tickets before the announcement with many of these attributed to the 'maybe'? of LeBron joining their team. Even the Cavs took steps to ensure they would fill seats by requiring current season tickets holders to re-up for the 2010/2011 in March. Months before the Decision was made. Additionally, the week after he signed, CNBC reported that 'James' Heat No. 6 jersey was the most popular seller, with jerseys being ordered in all 50 states (yes, including Ohio) and 26 countries.'? And, we can't dismiss that LeBron raised nearly $3MM for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America through paid advertisements from sponsors including McDonalds, the University of Phoenix, Bing and Vitaminwater. #3 ' The LeBron Brand May Not Have Suffered'?¦ As Much As We Think I know a lot of other AMPers will argue this point, but according to the same CNBC article, James has come out of the Decision as 'more influential'? with 'the population [being] more aware of him in general'? as determined by a Celebrity Davie-Brown Index poll. Granted his popularity among those who previously knew him has fallen: Appeal rating went from 71.5% to  60.5% Opinion of him as a trendsetter from 65.2% to 64.6% Opinion of him as a trustworthy figure from 56.6% to 53.0% But, LeBron's marks as a viable endorser did not significantly fall - from 69.9% to 67.6% of the population. So, from my perspective (and I will caveat that I was fully caught up in the spectacle), LeBron definitely made a bad 'decision'? on how to make his announcement, but the 'decision'? itself looks like it may be the right one for him to grow his brand. As evidenced above, there's no question he has the audience, can generate funds and he is still a viable endorser. The only question, is he destined to be a NBA champion? *Blogger Disclosure: I firmly believe that the Celtics Big Three can take out Miami's. See you in the playoffs LeBron!

Numbers Game

This week, superstar LeBron James filed official NBA paperwork to change his number from 23 to 6. LeBron says that he wants to change his number out of respect to MJ ' the most famous #23. The cynic in me has to wonder if it's a tribute to Michael Jordan the player, or Michael Jordan the businessman and product endorser of Nike, McDonalds, Gatorade, Hanes, and upwards of a dozen others. If LeBron was such a basketball purist and really wanted to lay tribute to one of the game's greatest players, why would he choose 6? It might not have the iconography of 23, but it happens to be the number of some other slightly above average players by the name of Russell and Erving. Hmmm, makes you wonder if this decision was born out of Cleveland, OH or Portland, OR. So why is this move such a big deal? Well, in the sports world it could mean everything from LeBron sticking around in Cleveland (if he was planning on leaving this summer, why go through the trouble?), to him just getting used to the idea of playing with #6 because he'll need to change it when he goes to Chicago next year (bold prediction). Regardless of what his decision is, this may be just as big of a story in the sports marketing and branding world. Okay fine, LeBron's 2010 fate is sort of a bigger deal, but let's examine what something as simple as a number change can do. CHANGES IN BRANDING LeBron has a logo. Most logos don't change very often, and when they do it's usually not as a result of one guy deciding he wants to wear something different to work. In the case of King James, the logo that appears on all of his clothing, and even Ohio State's basketball uniforms prominently displays the number 23 weaved inside his initials. So at the very least, someone at Nike is going to need to redesign that logo, all of the current apparel with the old logo displayed are going to end up in a similar place as the Patriots 19-0 Super Bowl t-shirts (single tear followed by multiple tears), and Nike is going to re-launch a new line of apparel. NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR MERCHANDISING #23 and #6 aside, LeBron is #2. Huh? In terms of jersey sales, Cleveland's #23 is still only the second most popular jersey behind Kobe's #24 (for the second year in a row). LeBron appears to be adopting a similar strategy as Kobe when he switched from #8, a move that propelled him to the top of the jersey sales list. A true NBA 'fan'? wouldn't be caught dead in an outdated jersey, and I believe there's a 10 year grace period before something can be considered 'throwback'?. New jerseys equal new purchases. CREATION OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES Like most moves in the sports world, this one will lead to a list of conspiracy theories that speculate on ulterior motives, like: The 'going to Chicago'? thing. Not very likely. The 'stay in Cleveland'? thing. Somewhat more-likely. LeBron really said that he wanted to go to New Jersey next year, and Cleveland is just pretending they misheard him until this blows over. Not likely, but hopeful for Nets fans. The real reason is exactly what LeBron says. Least likely of them all.

The Dunk that Never Happened: How Nike (and LeBron) Should Rebound (pun very much intended)

I'm sure you've all heard about it by now. This past week, The King was dethroned. No, I'm not talking about the King of Pop. I'm talking about Lebron, 'King James'?. This past Monday during a pickup game at the LeBron James Skills Academy, he was dunked on by Jordan. The worst part is that the Jordan to which I'm referring was not MJ, the original #23. LeBron was posterized by Jordan Crawford, a sophomore from Xavier. If you're not keen on the lingo, let's put it this way; whilst Mr. Crawford flew through the air to slam the ball through the rim, an unfortunate Mr. James got in the way. Physics, by way of Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion, tells us that once an object is put into motion, it will not stop until another object exerts force upon it. According to reports, LeBron James, though King of the hardwood, could not prevail over the laws of physics. You may notice that I said 'according to reports'? and there lies the very reason for this post. There is no video of the occurrence. Blasphemy! What is this, the dark ages? There's a video of EVERYTHING that's happened since 2004. There's probably a video of me reading this blog post! Well, let me rephrase my last statement; there was a video, two in fact. However, after a brief chat with the King, they were both confiscated by Nike Basketball Senior Director Lynn Merritt. Since the event, the blogging, marketing and sports world have been abuzz. Fraud! Evil Nike Conglomerate! they cry. It would appear that instead of letting the video of an act that probably happens 3-4 times in a normal NBA game make the usual 2-3 week journey through the internet before we all got bored of it, Nike chose to do PR tactic number one; sweep it under the rug. Now they've created something far worse ' the PR cover-up nightmare. Much to no one's surprise, in the days of blogs, microblogs, and nanoblogs (I may have made the last one up, but I'm sure Apple's working on it as we speak), chances are it's going to come back to bite you. See Airlines, United. So, what to do? Well, I'm going out on a limb here and am HOPING that both Nike and LeBron have enough marketing and brand savvy (after all, LeBron IS a brand) to turn this current nightmare into a dream opportunity. Maybe they can use that video to their advantage, it already has more buzz surrounding it than most celebrity sex tapes. Maybe Nike was just borrowing the video to convert it to HD, make LeBron's teeth look a little whiter as Jordan Crawford was flying past them, and are going to release it on YouTube next week. Maybe they'll even add cool sound or video effects like a starburst when Crawford throws down. Eh, maybe not. Here's what I would do if I were Nike. LeBron's your poster boy, he's arguably the best, or at least will be. But he's young. He's made it to the Conference Finals, the Championship, only to come up short. He's still got work to do, he needs to get better. There's your off-season campaign. Show the dunk, show it twice, slow motion, the whole deal. Show a grainy close-up of LeBron's face after it happens, the shame. Then cut to LeBron training, lifting weights, shooting free throws, hell, show him puking his guts out after running 50 full-court wind sprints. Show that he's still a kid, still human, and still can get better. Excite us about that, Nike ' he's great, but he's still has the opportunity to get better. That's enough to give you chills.

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