Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

How Much Is LeBron Worth To Nike?


Last week in Akron, when LeBron James unveiled the Air Zoom LeBron VII, he expressed his happiness with his decision to sign with Nike in May 2003.

“I looked at it like I was going to be in a position with a great company, where I can help hopefully business with them and they can help me," James said. And now, seven years later, it’s been everything I’ve expected.”

NIKE Air Max LeBron VII
Source: Nike

The question is, as James' Nike contract comes to an end after this season, was it all that Nike expected when they signed him 2,273 days ago.

The answer is no.

When Nike signed James they agreed to guarantee him some $13 million a year, which would have only been worth it if he turned into the next Michael Jordan.

But while James has somehow lived up to the hype on the court, he hasn’t really done so off the court.

Much of it is not his fault. It’s just that it’s LeBron himself who has proven that there is no next Michael Jordan.

In LeBron, we finally had the perfect test case. The most glorified high school basketball player of all time who somehow lived up to all expectations. And yet, even he couldn’t sell gear or shoes like MJ did.

Actually, make that does. Air Jordans are still the best selling basketball shoes in the country by a monopolistic margin.

I'm a huge fan of LeBron and he's a great endorser for the Nike brand,” said David Falk, who represented Jordan. “They absolutely have to have him. At the same time, he’s so associated with them right now it would be hard to switch.”

So the question is how much does Nike pay LeBron for his next deal? Some might suggest James has some leverage in that he could sign his next deal with the Knicks, which would literally put him on Madison Avenue. But, trust me, location doesn't sell as much as championships do.

Falk said James’ next contract with Nike could have less upfront guaranteed money and focus more on royalties. That, Falk said, would also free up more money to fuel Nike’s giant advertising engine.

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