The LeBron James effect is boosting Lakers ticket and merchandise sales

Key Points
  • LeBron James' move to the L.A. Lakers has boosted ticket prices by over 400 percent, according to StubHub.
  • Opening night ticket prices are averaging $934, and James' merchandise sales are soaring.
Shaquille O'Neal on LeBron's move to the Lakers
Shaquille O'Neal on LeBron's move to the Lakers

LeBron James is already scoring big for the Los Angeles Lakers — and the season hasn't even started.

With the regular season set to begin on October 16, the newest star of the storied franchise is driving up ticket prices not only at home, but in nearly every city he plays in. At the Staples Center alone, ticket prices are up 427 percent over last season according to StubHub. However, it's not just at home: Road games for the Lakers are once again a big draw.

"When the Lakers come into different markets, we are seeing a massive pop," said Scott Jablonski, StubHub's general manager of the NHL, NFL and NBA. "It's been one of the bigger things we've seen."

The most in-demand NBA game for the upcoming season is opening night, when the Houston Rockets visit the Lakers: The average ticket for that game is $934.

The second most expensive game is Christmas Day, when the Lakers go to Oakland to take on the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Tickets there average just over $700, a 120 percent increase from last Christmas. (And in case you're wondering, Cleveland has fallen off the radar. Ticket sales for the Cavaliers are down since the King headed West.)

Meanwhile, it's not just ticket sales getting a Lebron-inspired boost, as James' Lakers merchandise is also soaring. At the Lakers first two pre-season games at the Staples Center, the team says they sold double the amount of merchandise compared to last season.

On eBay 12,000 of James' jerseys have been sold since he signed in July. To put that in perspective, that's nearly 200 jerseys sold per day – just on that one site. His signature shoe, the Nike LeBron 15, leads eBay in sneaker sales, followed by Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook.

"LeBron's move to Los Angeles has ignited overwhelming momentum in jersey and sneakers sales on eBay, and demonstrates how influential he truly is in moving the needle across fan gear," said Sam Bright, eBay's vice president of Soft Goods, North America.

Basketball star LeBron James wearing Beats By Dre headphones
NBA | Beats By Dre

'Power couple'

In the primary ticket market, the Lakers say the "LeBron effect" will be felt stronger a year from now because season tickets and sponsorships were mostly secured before his decision to go to LA. For now, the impact is mostly in the secondary market.

"LeBron, one of the top individual brands in the world, joining one of the top team brands in the world, that's created incredible interest," said Tim Harris, the Lakers' COO. "The marriage of these two brands has created a power couple."

Harris said the Lakers are trying to take it slow for the sake of their fan base. While they expect to increase season ticket prices next season, the team plans to use this season's secondary market to help determine the true value of Lakers tickets.

An uptick in TV ratings is another area where they are expecting big bumps. Already, James' first preseason game against the Nuggets earned 1.17 million viewers on ESPN – the third largest audience for a preseason game since 2009.

Harris expected that trend to continue in the regular season. He said L.A. Live, the entertainment district next to the Staples Center, is also seeing an uptick in restaurant traffic. It should only get bigger once the real games begin.

Harris said that demand for Lakers tickets is so strong, they could sell out the Staples Center — even if the venue were hypothetically able to fit 10,000 more fans. Harris has been with the Lakers for 20 seasons, including through five championships with now retired stars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. Yet 2018 is a whole new level with LeBron.

"I've been doing this a long time, and it continues to blow my mind, the mania with him in this uniform," Harris told CNBC.