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LeBron No Closer To New York

Wednesday, 12 May 2010 | 11:50 AM ET

If you’re a New York Knicks fan, the Daily News is telling you to cheer for the Celtics.

Their cover this morning? “Boston Lee Party: Why Knicks fan Spike is rooting for hated Celtics.” The story insidegoes on to explain that the filmmaker believes that New York has a better chance of getting LeBron if the team, which was smoked by 32 points last night in Game 5, loses.

LeBron James
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LeBron James

There’s only one problem with this logic. While the Cavs might have been bad last night, the Knicks didn’t get any better between yesterday and today either.

I cover the business of sports, so I can’t talk about where LeBron’s heart lies. I can only talk about what situation nets LeBron the most money.

And even if Cleveland goes down this year, Cleveland is still a better place for James to make more money than New York right now. Why? First, let’s dismiss the fallacy of the big market. Outside the arena, TV is the only thing that matters.

Counting the playoffs, the Cavaliers have appeared on national television 35 times this year. The Knicks? Just five. And this isn’t 1980. A LeBron performance in Cleveland gets as much play on SportsCenter as a LeBron performance in New York.

Now let’s talk about advertising and the fallacy that LeBron would make more money by playing closer to Madison Avenue. Ad firms might be based in New York but their clients are interested in getting national attention. The national play has nothing to do with New York itself, it has to do with relevancy across the country. If the Knicks aren’t winning, LeBron isn’t relevant.

And finally, here’s where nearly everyone misses the point on James’ marketing potential in New York. No, Nike’s new deal with him doesn’t give James a bonus should he move to New York. But like any contract, he does get royalties. Reporters, writers and talk show hosts think New York will automatically allow Nike to sell more shoes and maybe it would. But the United States isn’t where LeBron or Nike’s marketing future lies. It lies in China, where the business has been growing double digits and where there are more basketball fans than people in the United States.

Kobe is huge in China. LeBron? Not so much. It’s why Nike unveiled its Hyperdunk shoe at the Beijing Games on Kobe. Why do they revere Kobe so much more than LeBron? Championships.

LeBron’s going to get his max contract anywhere he goes. If he wants to be more marketable, he has to be in a place where he can win titles. That place might be Cleveland and it might be somewhere else, but there are no signs that New York has the structure that will give him that championship anytime soon.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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