Entertainers and sports figures have the capacity to build tremendous brands and brand value, but this great article looks at the master of them all LeBron James and his role in building a truly world class brand for the LeBron James franchise. He and his team have built the iconic licensing opportunity as James goes thru his career, and today it is paying off in the millions. Check out this great article by Tom Van Riper in Forbes.
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LeBron James: Master Brand Builder
Brand building. It’s a complex science that LeBron James has mastered at every turn.
The consummate 21st century athletic superstar with designs on becoming a billionaire icon clearly knows the drill. Aside from the mechanics of how he handled his “decision” to move to South Beach four years ago, James has managed the twists and turns of his career like a master puppeteer, pulling all the right strings. As the career arc swings and expectations change, he adapts, moving smoothly into the next role. From young gun to champion to prodigal son. Has anyone scripted a career better?
First came the role of local boy making good – the Akron, Ohio prodigy who came straight out of St. Vincent- St. Mary High School to the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to give the traditionally floundering franchise instant credibility. That he didn’t win a title didn’t matter, at least not for the first few years. He was the young gun from down the road who turned the Cavs into winners and packed the house every night.
Eventually, though, an icon needs a championship ring. Or two or three of them. When LeBron didn’t see that happening in Cleveland after seven years, he did something about it. Still just 25, he orchestrated a move designed to shed him of that dreaded “can’t win the big one” label that has held other stars back from true icon status. So it was off to Miami with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The result was predictable enough: four years, four Finals appearances, two rings. LeBron had indeed won the big one – twice. Check that off the list.
And now the biggest role of all, that of prodigal son. Redemption, forgiveness, and, hopefully, triumph. What’s not to love about that story? A few months shy of 30, with the window of his prime set to close in the next three or four years, James has a chance to do something much bigger than leading a carefully assembled All-Star team to a couple of titles in front of a bunch of fair weather fans in Florida. This is Cleveland – tortured, beleaguered, cynical Cleveland – where the weather is cold, job creation lags, and no one under the age of 60 has any real memory of the town’s last major sports title. Pulling off an NBA championship there would be like three in Los Angeles.
“This move back to Cleveland for LeBron has the potential to completely change his legacy if he leads the Cavs to a championship in the next few years,” says Jeff Howle, Director of Experiential Branding at marketing agency Erwin Penland.
James certainly has the pieces around him to make a good run of it. The Cavaliers’ plummet that began right after he left has netted some nice draft positions, getting them star guard Kyrie Irving and this year’s top pick, forward Andrew Wiggins from Kansas. Wiggins, though, might not want to look for that Shaker Heights house just yet, if speculation that the Cavs may flip him and his salary to Minnesota for superstar Kevin Love, who can be a free agent in 2015 but who has already expressed “intrigue” at the thought of signing with Cleveland long term, turns out to be accurate.
With the 2010 Decision standing as LeBron’s only real public relations snafu, he’s grabbed an opportunity to cancel it out with the Reverse Decision. Don’t think for a second that those Cleveland fans who burned his jersey four years ago won’t welcome him back with joy once they see him put that jersey back on. It makes you wonder if the whole thing – leaving, winning titles, and then coming back as the Heat roster aged and the Cavs’ roster improved thanks to the draft picks that traced directly to his departure – was all part of the master plan.
LeBron is a savvy guy, but he couldn’t be that savvy, could he?