5 Smartest Marketing Moves of LeBron James' Career

John FrielAnalyst ISeptember 6, 2012

5 Smartest Marketing Moves of LeBron James' Career

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    After buying a minority stake in the Premier League team Liverpool F.C., LeBron James was asked on what his expectations were when he had the idea of being a partial owner of a professional team.

    "The first time I stepped on an NBA court, I became a businessman," James, 26, told the Wall Street Journal. "This is a great opportunity for me."

    James certainly is on the way to becoming an excellent businessman. He's taken full advantage of his influence in the game of basketball, earning his dues on the court and then investing his time in other industries, while keeping close company with trustworthy people and those who are also on an ambitious road to riches.

    Through nine years, James also hasn't earned any negative press regarding his personal life. It's one thing for James to leave a team as a free agent; that's one thing. But having something occur in a celebrity's personal life could be crippling towards their image. The media is on a constant search for rating generating news and will look to run with that news for as long as they can milk it.

    LeBron hasn't had that sort of problem, outside of the whole leaving Cleveland deal.

    When it comes to the business of being a professional athlete, LeBron has risen higher than just about any other. His sneakers are some of the most wanted on the market, he has endorsement deals that will pay for his children's children's college tuition and is a part of the league's best team to top it all off.

    James has taken a stranglehold of the spotlight of the NBA, and he isn't planning on letting go any time soon.

Joining the Heat

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    Some of you may be thinking the complete opposite. After all, LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers is the main reason why his popularity has taken such a hit. Many feel that he scorned the city he promised to win a title for because of the manner he left the team but also because he didn't join their team.

    Well, you underestimate the power that comes with winning a championship—something LeBron may have never seen had he not joined the Miami Heat, teaming up with two of the league's top players or "taking the easy route," as so many deemed it.

    LeBron wasn't winning a title in the past two years had he stayed with Cleveland, if you judge the outlook of the roster based on how insufficiently run the organization was. The Cavs still weren't a better team than Boston nor Chicago, and would have fell at the hands of either of those teams whose benches are far more superior than what Cleveland could have been offering in response.

    Instead, LeBron took the smarter route and went to Miami. By winning a title, James' name has no tarnish on it, his legacy finally has a coveted NBA title and a Finals MVP on his resume, and he can finally be recognized as one of the best to play the game.

    Naturally, what comes with success? You guessed it: Endorsements and praise. 

    Nike was quick to the punch, sending out this commercial shortly after the conclusion of the NBA Finals.

    You could only wonder how many edits had to have been made to that commercial, because I'd guess that it was being made in 2011 following the Conference Finals.

Liverpool F.C.

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    He may not be taking all of the the players on an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas with Kanye West as the guest entertainment, but LeBron James can still boast that he's going to strongly benefit from his minority ownership of Liverpool F.C, an English soccer—football for my friends overseas—team with roots dating back to 1892.

    Becoming one of the few athletes to have partial ownership of a different team, James' sports-marketing firm LRMR Branding & Marketing struck a deal to take partial ownership of the club in April 2011. Since then, he has visited the team personally, attended their games and even conducted interviews with the young fans of the team as well.

    As of January of 2012, James appears to have struck a gold mine with the team. Forbes.com reported Liverpool signing multiple deals with outside sources of income, including $25 million per year for the next six years from Warrior Sports,

    LeBron may have bought at exactly the right time, savvy for a rookie when it comes to business. As long as Liverpool's rich following continues to withhold, LeBron is going to come out of this as one of the most financially successful athletes.

Aligning with the Right People

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    When you get into a high-profile business like the NBA, you risk getting yourself into traps that could send your career spiraling down.

    It only takes one bad moment to destroy a legacy or make the public's image of someone's change forever; because every time that person's name is brought up, one of the first thing's you'll hear about is how their name was tarnished. I'm not speaking of moving to another team as a free agent, either; I'm speaking of players performing acts in the public that may be looked down upon.

    Outside of making a few misconceived quotes, LeBron James has remained relatively sound in the press. He hasn't ever been featured in the tabloids nor has his mugshot ever been plastered over televisions worldwide. All LeBron has done is stay on the quickest path to success, which is aided by aligning himself with people who also only care about success.

    Look at the close relationship LeBron has with rap mogul Jay-Z, or Sean Carter in a professional sense, as a prime example of how James aligns himself with people who envision similar dreams. 

    James has been featured in Carter's videos and is usually seen speaking with the Brooklyn Nets minority owner before, through and after games. James hanging around with a success story and motivated individual in Carter is a sign that LeBron has similar feelings towards where he wants his career to progress.

    To LeBron, this career of his is far more than just basketball.

It's the Shoes, Money

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    I'll just go ahead and assume that you've heard about LeBron James possibly having a sneaker that's going to sell for $315.

    The Wall Street Journal originally had the shoes at a retail price of $315, making it the most expensive shoe to ever retail on the market. However, the Journal may have been a little too quick, as reports have surfaced the LeBron X will be sold in the fall for $180. There will also reportedly be some other version of the shoes that will run to $290, although they are believed to also be limited release.

    This is the raw, unmatched and overwhelming power of the sneaker industry. To the average consumer, these sneakers may be described as something out of their price range, yet these sneakers are going to most likely sell out on the first day. In fact, they'll sell out well before the day is over, since it's usually the norm to see massive crowds storm Foot Lockers and Finish Lines at midnight.

    Seriously, people love these shoes. People are literally killing each other over sneakers they'll end up scuffing within a day. Don't blame it on Michael Jordan or Nike though. This is Economics 101: supply and demand. If there are people willing to spend up to $100 on a pair of sneakers, then they'll continue to bump up the price and before you know it, there are people spending $200 on sneakers.

    Although the sneakers in question in the video may not be LeBron's, he is beginning to grow in the sneaker industry and his name will eventually reach the historic heights of Jordan's, if he can continue on the path he's currently trekking down. More accolades and more titles only means more benefits for LeBron.

    The LeBron X is already earning publicity for its price alone. Outside of Jordan, James has the shoe-game in a chokehold, and he's only going to find himself gaining strength as his legacy grows.

MVPuppets

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    Yeah, remember these? The MVPuppets of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, seen as the league's two best players, at the time with Nike obviously pushing towards a title bout that would spar the two in a matchup with Kobe's Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Bryant got the job done on his end—twice—while James failed to hold his part of the bargain, which still ended up creating another commercial, and another chance to cash in, for Nike, however.

    While it may seem strange that Nike would end up making a commercial that just dissed one of their most profitable clients, you may be surprised to know that it's LeBron who also has a large say in the video's production. Although it was Nike who came up with the idea, he claimed to be the "executive producer of the ads."

    Nike is one of the most powerful sellers in the retail market, and it has little competition in the sporting goods department. It's plastered on every piece of clothing involved in sports: every ball, every sneaker, every single thing. They have all the top athletes on their side, and they keep them happy enough to continue smiling and saying Nike makes you jump higher/swing better/hit better/etc. 

    So, obviously LeBron, as well as Kobe, made some significant funds off of this because of the popularity the commercial's generated, even adding on characters like the legendary Lil' Desmond.

    The commercials lasted for over a year, but their popularity still persists with YouTube videos generating hundreds of thousands views.