Rating LeBron’s Endorsements
LeBron James one of the most marketable guys in all of sports and has a chance to be the league’s most marketable player -- hands down -- if he wins a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers this month. But James is not a slam dunk for the companies he is working for at this point and I believe most of that fault lies with the companies who have signed him. Despite the perception, Michael Jordan did not hit a home run with many of the companies he did deals with (Ballpark Franks and Rayovac were never market leaders.) With that in mind, here’s my LeBron James endorsement scorecard.
I really like what Wieden+Kennedy have done with LeBron and Nike. From his first game commercial playing off all the hype to “The LeBrons” series which maximizes his potential as an actor (in that category, he beats Michael Jordan) to the “WITNESS” campaign. The reason Nike doesn’t get an A is that, aside from the great anticipation the night before the launch of his first signature shoe, there hasn’t been a whole lot of buzz around the Air Zoom LeBron franchise. That’s different from when there’s a new Air Jordan or Jordan retro shoe, which blows away LeBron's shoes on the numbers.
While we’re on Jordan, the brand’s line of apparel is amazing and fresh. Nike hasn’t been able to sell LeBron’s gear and insiders tell me the only reason why a limited amount of stuff is on the shelves is so the major retailers don’t lose political power with Nike HQ. That’s not good enough for the $90 million price tag for LeBron.
James is still on the Powerade bottle, but his flavor -- Flava23 -- can hardly be found in supermarkets any longer. We’ve also been waiting for a good commercial out of the Coke brands and LeBron.The Powerade spot that had LeBron throwing a full court shot and swishing it through the hoop was genius though the Sprite adshave been hideous. On the Powerade front, LeBron hasn’t helped them improve market share over Gatorade. In 2006, Gatorade -- including Propel -- had a 80.8 percent market share to Powerade’s 18.2 percent, which is down .3 percent, according to Beverage Digest.
By the way, I think the fact that Cavaliers have a deal with Gatorade compromises this deal. Yes, I know LeBron uses a blank towel and a blank water bottle so as not to give Gatorade props, but the fact that he can’t drink a Powerade-labeled product on the bench really hurts.
Upper Deck: A-
I think it’s easy to be Upper Deck. They signed James to an exclusive memorabilia deal and if you want a nice James autograph on a piece, you’re pretty much going to have to go through them.
I like the idea of giving LeBron a flavor, but “Lightning Lemonade” isn’t the greatest flavor in the world nor does it seem to be the most readily available in stores. Couple that with the fact that it seems like Cadbury Adams doesn’t have much of an ad budget for this and the bubble has burst on this deal.
The only thing we’ve seen from this deal is the Vista commercial, which I’m not a fan of The bottom line is that athletes are not going to help endorse an operating system. It’s just a total disconnect. This deal will only work for James if he does other Microsoft products like the Zune and the Xbox 360.
Behind The Jerry Porter Deal
Many of you might have seen that last week, Oakland Raiders wideout Jerry Porter announced that he would not switch from No. 84 to No. 81 because the league was going to hit him with a $130,000 charge and the Raiders would charge him $80,000. These numbers were commensurate with the value of No. 84 Porter jerseys the league and the team had in stock. While this has apparently been a rule for at least a couple years, this is the first time I've ever heard of it.
Personally, I think it's brilliant. Given how much replica and official jerseys cost these days, it's not fair to the fan, who has invested in your jersey, to change numbers at will. The league and team charging the player makes a lot of sense because it only really matters with the biggest players and those are the guys who would have a big bill to pay. The NBA jersey change rule, which came to light when I reported Kobe Bryant's jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24, requires players who are not changing teams and who wish to change numbers at will to have their current number for a period of four seasons or longer and inform the league more than six months in advance.
Spelling Bee Beats NBA
LeBron James had an incredible Game Five on Thursday night. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see it live. I was, of course, watching the "Scripps National Spelling Bee" on ABC. More people chose the Bee over the NBA. Bee coverage getting 7.1 million viewers, while the Cavs-Pistons matchup yielded 5.6 million viewers. I can only imagine how bad things would have been had Samir Patel been in primetime.
If The Hidary Group gets Everlast for $146 million, a 14 percent premium over the close, it will be a steal. Aquamarine Capital Management, which owns a 2.3 percent stake, has said it will vote against the deal. I think the brand still has an amazingly powerful name, even though it has been hurt by idiotic brand extensions like energy bars and a fragrance.
News & Notes
As I reported on our network on Friday, the Boston Red Sox have signed a deal with data analytics company Stratbridge to help them better realize ticket prices at the park. They’re doing this despite the fact that they’ve sold out the last 336 games.
A representative with the All-American Football League told me that the league intends to kick off in the spring 2008. The league, which aims to feature college graduates playing in their college markets, just sent out invitations to players, school officials and agents inviting them to player tryouts to be held at the Citrus Bowl from July 2-4.Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com