|NBA finals raise James' marketing profile to new heights|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 06 June 2007 13:53|
Their $90 million investment never looked better.
``The world changed for a lot of us at Nike in that Game 5,'' said Brian Fairben, Nike's business manager for James.
For the 22-year-old James, who has stated that he wants to become a ``global icon'' and the world's first billionaire athlete, a trip to the NBA finals is a step toward those goals. It will raise his already hyped profile even higher, and marketers are prepared to take advantage.
Fairben has been with Nike Inc. for 15 years and has worked on James' marketing campaigns since the high school phenom signed in 2003. He admits to giddy excitement and feverish text-messaging with co-workers as James almost single-handedly beat the Pistons in double overtime on May 31.
Nike is seizing the moment by revisiting its ``Witness'' campaign with a black-and-white commercial that will air during the finals. It shows James in slow motion, dunking on the Pistons in the first overtime. As he soars, the late gospel singer Marion Williams soulfully sings ``I Shall Be Released.''
``It's a goose-bump moment,'' Fairben said.
James is closer to fulfilling his prophecy as ``The Chosen One,'' something that Nike is counting on, said Paul Swangard, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, located not far from Nike's suburban Portland headquarters.
``They invested an enormous amount of money up front betting this would eventually occur,'' Swangard said. ``It's a validation of not only their efforts but their investment.''
James' exposure in the finals will take him beyond basketball fans, helping him reach a mass audience. It's an important leap in selling Nike sneakers to consumers who will buy them as a lifestyle purchase, not to run up and down a basketball court, Swangard said.
Nike is looking to expand James' influence in Asia by launching a version of his signature shoe there, the first time it has ever done so overseas, Fairben said. The company's next growth market for James is Europe.
That the finals is viewed in 205 countries in 46 different languages won't hurt those goals.
A stunning performance, like the one Miami's Dwyane Wade put on last season, would help.
``His popularity soared internationally even though he had been famous ... it really jumps to another level,'' said Terry Lyons, vice president for international communications for the NBA.
James is now tops in jersey sales, which have steadily increased as the Cavaliers made their playoff run, said Neil Schwartz, director of business development at West Palm Beach, Fla.-based SportsOneSource, which tracks sales of licensed sports products.
``It goes beyond the hardcore fan to the sports fan. Kids start wearing those jerseys,'' Schwartz said. ``It starts to take that next step. Dwyane Wade took that next step last year.''
Sports memorabilia collectors have responded as well. James' signed $900 blue Cleveland road jerseys have been sold out since the day after he wore his in that epic Game 5, said Tim Muret, vice president of Upper Deck Authenticated. His other jerseys and signed basketballs also are on backorder.
The company, which has an exclusive contract with James, is going to capitalize with more products including commemorative signed photos from the 48-point game.
The one arena where James isn't close to being king is in shoe sales.
Years after his playing days, Michael Jordan still dominates.
``It's just all Jordan all the time. It just doesn't go away,'' Schwartz said.
Swangard says Nike probably wishes sales were a bit stronger. But Fairben says it's tough to compete with the 20-year legacy of Air Jordan.
``I don't think we could have expected anything bigger or better,'' he said.
Forbes magazine estimated that James made $26 million from June 2005 to June 2006. His endorsement deals with Nike, Sprite, Bubblicious and others total more than $150 million. He also has a partnership with Microsoft.
Most of those deals were signed early in James' pro career.
James and three friends, Maverick Carter, Randy Mims and Rich Paul, formed LRMR Development LLC to run James' personal and business management. They've been choosy with James' business partnerships and always careful to avoid overexposure.
So has Nike.
``You want people to be smart. You want people to hunger for the product,'' Fairben said. ``We're trying to remain patient and grow this thing wisely.''
On the Net:
NBA Global: http://www.nba.com/global/
Nike's Witness ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?vW6ub82yTdSM
Upper Deck: http://store.upperdeck.com/