Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Heat will be on – LeBron and the 2010-11 Miami Heat get it going

LeBron James and the Miami Heat began their 2010 NBA pre-season with a “nationally” televised game – when the Heat met the Detroit Pistons at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena. Is this the only preseason game NBA TV will offer over the next few weeks, no, but like much of the Heat’s 2010-11 season will be the game is being hyped and sold. The Heat beat the Pistons 105-89. James played 25 minutes, hitting for 18 points. Wade was suffered an injury leaving the game after three minutes. Bosh’s 20 points led the Heat in scoring.

The question that begs to be asked, will LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh work in Miami. The real question from a sports business perspective – isn’t whether or not they’ll work on the court but whether or not the most talked about trio in recent NBA memory will work for the Heat and the NBA off the court.

On the court one point remains crystal clear, LeBron James made the right on court basketball decision, as did Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The trio have every right as free agency afforded them to decide where they wanted to take their basketball talents in 2010. The career of a professional athlete is all to short and the chance to win a championship is one of the goals every professional athlete seeks. James, Wade and Bosh each earned the dollars they’re going to be paid and that isn’t an issue either.

Were everything went wrong for LeBron James how he decided to announce, the now infamous “The Decision” was among the biggest marketing and communications disasters of 2010. Last week appearing with CNN correspondent Soledad O'Brien, LeBron and his manager Maverick Carter rolled our and played the ‘race card’ when O’Brien asked the duo about the negative media coverage “The Decision” inspired.

O'Brien asked if race played a role.

"I think so at times," James said. "It's always, you know, a race factor."

Said Carter: "It definitely played a role in some of the stuff coming out of the media, things that were written for sure."

A few other facts the two men who played a key role in the decision to move forward with the end result of what The Decision failed to recognized, nearly three months after that evening of infamy fail to realize is they simply made a terrible decision and they have to take responsibility for their actions that night and the fallout.

The immediate reaction from James former team the Cleveland indignation from Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. While not nearly as terrible a marketing blunder as was The Decision, Gilbert’s guarantee that the Cavs would win a title before James the Heat was childish at best and silly at worst. James saying the Cavs never cared was almost as silly. Again focus on how LeBron chose to make the announcement, not his basketball decision.

How and why did one of the NBA’s and one of sports most marketable young icons go from the top of the Penthouse to the Outhouse so quickly. That remains one of the easiest questions to answer. The last time a Cleveland professional sports team won a championship was in 1964 when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship (pre-Super Bowl era). Cleveland has been called “the mistake by the lake”. It’s often been referred to as a town you might want to visit but one you’d never want to live in.

LeBron James was born and raised in Akron, 60 miles from Cleveland, raised by a single mother. A high school basketball prodigy, James attended St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in Akron, where he became a starter during his freshman year for the Fighting Irish, leading his school to three Division III Ohio high school basketball championships.

James was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft singling the dawn of a new era for the Cavaliers. In the 2002-03 the season before LeBron’s arrival the Cavaliers averaged 11,496 fans per game playing to 55 percent of their arena’s capacity, dead last in the NBA in home attendance. One year later with LeBron the Cavs averaged 18,287 per game 89 percent of their arena’s capacity.

Was it grandstanding that led to ESPN televising “The Decision”? ESPN on the outside looking in saw the opportunity for what it was, an opportunity to play a key role in the most anticipated NBA free agent decision in decades. The show was a ratings winner.

ESPN’s telecast of “The Decision,” generated a 7.3 overnight rating from 9-10:15 p.m. ET. The 7.3 is the highest overnight rating for any non-NFL ESPN program this calendar year. Additionally, based on overnights ESPN’s telecast was the highest-rated program of the night (cable or broadcast).

Not all justified ESPN came under a great deal of fire immediately – media pundits suggesting ESPN had no business becoming the tellers of a news story. In his latest column Don Ohlmeyer ESPN Ombudsman was highly critical of the role his network played in helping LeBron deliver the message and a subsequent decision on ESPN’s part to not publish parts of another story that would have been embarrassing to LeBron James.

As Ohlmeyer pointed out, “the perception that ESPN was hiding something, trying to protect a star athlete from embarrassing revelations or covering up news to protect a valued relationship. The article itself was rather innocuous. Other than an off-color remark by James and the chronicling of some testosterone-driven antics, it was -- by modern day standards -- fairly benign. No arrests. No indecent behaviour.”

It was the optics of what ESPN did, the perception that ESPN was ‘in bed” with a stat athlete and how objective could their coverage be after they had been a part of the television of The Decision.

"It's hard to recall a story that encountered such a series of breakdowns in our editorial process," said Rob King, vice president and editor-in-chief for ESPN Digital Media. "From the initial story pitch, to the vetting of the idea, to the execution of the newsgathering, to the quality and completion of the editing, and finally, to the errant publishing of the story to an internal server … each of these breakdowns contributed to the decision not to republish the piece."
"Let's be clear," said King, referring to some critics' speculation that ESPN was pressured into spiking the story by James or his business managers. "The decision was made without influence from any outside party."

ESPN isn’t above reproach, ESPN.com is one of if not the best sports website on the entire internet, but that’s the price ESPN paid for in part being a part of LeBron James telecast.

LeBron’s popularity has taken a tremendous hit, CNBC’s Darren Rovell reported LeBron’s Q score which in part helps determine an athletes reputation took a tremendous hit.

According to Rovell’s report, “In January 2010, The Q Scores Company took a poll of the general population and found that 24 percent of people thought of James in a positive light, compared to a 22 percent negative opinion”

Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the company, told CNBC that the average sports personality has a 15 percent positive score and a 24 percent negative score.

“LeBron’s positive score at that time was the highest we had ever seen it,” Schafer said.

But since “The Decision” show on July 8, things have gone seriously downhill for the NBA star.

Schafer told Rovell that on the eve of the NBA season only 14 percent of the general population see James as a positive figure, a 41.6 percent drop, while 39 percent view LeBron in a negative light, a 77 percent decline.

According to Rovell, LeBron is now the sixth most disliked sports personality, according to The Q Score Company, behind Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Kobe Bryant.

“Instead of his change to the Heat being seen as the best way he can win a championship, many have looked at it and how he chose to announce it as a selfish move,” Schafer told CNBC.

Again this point needs to be made again, LeBron James made the right basketball decision, what he simply did was make a terrible public relations decision. His self-serving TV special was a shot in the heart to anyone who believed in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Once he made his decision he had to understand the backlash in Cleveland would be both immediate and severe. If LeBron James had simply decided to allow the Heat to send out a press release and follow that up with a press conference attended by his new teammates the fallout would have been minimal at best. However LeBron gave the appearance of a spoiled child, the image of an athlete who seemingly didn’t care about his hometown. The “local hero” was leaving town and ready to do laugh in the faces of the people who loved their hometown hero.

If he had a chance to do it all over would LeBron James organize a TV special that in large part served his large ego? Only LeBron can answer that question but his suggestion that race played a role in how the event was perceived is both naïve and silly on LeBron’s part. LeBron’s basketball decision was the right one and Pat Reilly should be selected the NBA executive of the year for putting together the 2010-11 Miami Heat. Its LeBron’s public relations skills that need to be examined and questioned.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Source cited in this Insider Report: ESPN and CNBC

Labels: , , ,