Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Lebron & Microsoft and lots more


So we wake up Wednesday morning to the confirmation from Microsoft that it will use LeBron James to promote its new operating system Vista, which is coming out on Monday. We don’t believe that’s really the story. Why? Because the endorsement model doesn’t work with operating systems. It works with sports drinks and shoes. It also works with digital music players and video game consoles. Wait, did I just say that? Wait, doesn’t Microsoft make both the Zune and the Xbox 360? Bingo. That’s where the power of LeBron James can be felt and the company knows that. That’s why, Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos, told the Associated Press, “We’re talking about what future projects we might do with him.” I have one major issue and I’m sure the people at Nike already know about this. Microsoft is really going to need LeBron’s help with Zune, but Nike is really pushing its new alliance with iPod since its blowing out Nike+iPod sport kits. Nike endorser Maria Sharapova has in fact challenged LeBron to run more miles than him in the month of January. What will happen? That will be interesting to watch. LeBron already negotiates being a POWERade endorser while his team and the league are Gatorade.

Nike and Standalone Stores
The big news out of Nike didn’t come out of the shoe and apparel giant headquarters in Beaverton yesterday. It came out of the mouth of Susquehanna analyst John Shanley. Shanley saying he expected that Nike would open some Nike only stores in malls in 2007. We could totally see this coming. It’s obviously not unprecedented here. They have Niketowns. But Niketowns don’t have any buzz. The 255 Elizabeth place in New York City -- where you have to be invited to make your Nike ID’s -- now that has buzz. Don’t expect Nike to open up hundreds of these things like they have in Asia, where this is how the model works, but I get the sense that those at the Swoosh feel like they can get a little closer to their customers where they can control the total message. Perhaps we’ll hear more at the Feb. 6 analyst meeting. I will be in Beaverton for CNBC to provide live coverage of the event.

No UA Tennis Shoes
Under Armourhas done extremely well in both the football and baseball cleat market, but we’ll take an e-mail that came into my box yesterday as an indication that they’re probably not going into tennis shoes anytime soon. Babolat, who already has Andy Roddick under racket and shoe contract, has signed Robby Ginepri to a shoe contract. Ginepri has been playing with Babolat rackets since 2000, but he is most identified with the Under Armour brand since it is his clothing sponsor.

Mixed Martial Stocks
The business of mixed martial arts is exploding. If you get a chance, watch Scott Wapner’s piece tonight on our new show called “Business Nation” hosted by David Faber. It’s on at 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. E.T. And while we’re at it, this International Fight League stock is crazy. The fact that it’s trading at $1 less that the World Wrestling Entertainment is just nuts. Love the league, but I’d just have to see some more concrete financials before I could buy that stock at the price it is at now.

Fly Over
There’s no other athlete that truly needs a private jet more than a professional golfer given the individual nature of their sport and their schedules. That’s why the latest sponsorship we heard about makes sense. Brett Quigley, who finished 2006 ranked No. 20 on the PGA Tour money list, signed a two-year contract with luxury air charter company Talon Air. Quigley will wear Talon Air’s logo on the left chest of all his golf shirts and travel around the world in the company’s planes.

Write-In Of the Week
I always love the e-mails I get from readers and keep them coming. The best one I got since I started here at CNBC in July has to be from Quentin Love. Who, somehow, noticed that in Nike’s new Air Force 25 commercial former Nike posterboy Vince Carter is nowhere to be found in the commercial. Very strange. Great call, Quentin. Even I clearly missed that one.

Questions?  Comments?