Thursday, October 28, 2010

LeBron and the Heat will be on (and LeBron will again be popular)

LeBron James and the Miami Heat are set to make their South Florida debut Friday night when the Heat hosts their Florida NBA cousins the Orlando Magic at the American Airlines Arena. 2010 will in part be remembered by sports fans as a year when the image of professional athletes took a tremendous negative hit. While both Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger faced alleged sexual related allegations, and was suspended for the first four games of the NFL season, Brett Favre is facing allegations that hurt his image – both Favre and Roethlisberger are dealing with bad personal choices. The Tiger Woods saga began 11 months ago but was front and center throughout 2010 – again poor personal choice hurt his image and how people look at professional athletes.

For reasons that have nothing to do with “behaviour” and lifestyle choices Tiger, Ben and Brett will (and still might be) highly respected – unlike professional sports own Lucifer, LeBron James who set the sports world on fire when he decided to hold an hour long press conference to announce where he would play basketball this year. LeBron, a free agent at the end of the 2009-10 NBA season, made a great basketball decision leaving Cleveland for Miami. How he made his announcement is what should forever be regarded as one of the worst public relations decisions an athlete has ever made (in terms of announcing where he wanted to take his considerable athletic skills). Examined in that context LeBron made a mistake that many thought he might never recover from – his image is forever tarnished. History should be telling sports fans: never say never when it comes to an athlete with a bad image. Sports fans properly educated can and will forget, move forward and once again embrace an athlete they had once despised.

Nike, LeBron’s most important sponsor, embarked on an ambitious campaign to help re-educate the public and how they look at LeBron James. Dubbed “Rise” by the Nike spin masters, they have created a masterful multi-media campaign featuring James speaking in his own voice. In the film, he addresses his off-season controversy head-on and focuses on the road ahead.

Rise features several sides of LeBron’s personality: athlete, competitor, comedian and businessman. It opens with him sitting in a chair in front of the backdrop of “The Decision” asking, “What should I do?” Throughout the film LeBron rhetorically asks everyone for their opinion and each scene reflects opinions that have been expressed. A notable scene includes LeBron saying, “I am not a role model,” borrowing a famous line from fellow Nike athlete Charles Barkley. LeBron also humorously asks, “Should I try acting?” He gets advice from Don Johnson, an actor best known for his role as Detective Sonny Crockett on the iconic 80’s TV series Miami Vice, who advises him that things will get better with time. LeBron also reads part of a soulful poem written by world-renowned poet, Dr. Maya Angelou. The film ends with LeBron driving to the net and saying in response to everyone, “Should I be who you want me to be?”

“In Rise, Nike amplifies LeBron’s voice,” said Davide Grasso, Vice President of Global Brand Marketing. “We’re celebrating his courage to forge his own journey even when others may have disagreed with his decisions. It’s this Just Do It spirit that defines LeBron and Nike as we strive to inspire all young athletes.”

The campaign debuted globally with a 90-second film on YouTube on Monday, October 25th and subsequently aired on TNT Tuesday, October 26, during the Heat’s season opener in Boston against the Celtics. The campaign will also air during sports and entertainment broadcasting across national networks into November with the main placements to include TNT, ESPN, and Sports & Youth Cable (BET, Comedy Central, MTV2 Fuse, Adult Swim, Fox Sports, ESPN Family, TNT NBA, NBA TV).

As noted the spot was featured during TNT’s broadcast Tuesday night. The game was a ratings record for TNT, a powerful ratings winner doubleheader that opened with the Heat – Celtics game and ended with the Los Angeles Lakers home opener (and pregame ceremony that honoured their 2010 NBA World Championship).

TNT’s doubleheader coverage of opening night of the 2010-11 NBA season delivered record-setting ratings and audience for the network, averaging a 3.5 US rating, 5,493,000 total viewers and 4,025,000 households.

The opening game, featuring the Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics, earned a 4.6 US rating and delivered 7,433,000 total viewers and 5,339,000 households, making it the most watched regular season NBA game on cable of all-time (topping the Chicago Bulls vs. LA Lakers on Feb. 2, 1996).

Game two of the doubleheader, featuring the Houston Rockets @ Los Angeles Lakers at 10:30 p.m. (ET) delivered a 2.4 US rating, 3,719,000 total viewers and 2,823,000 households, making the doubleheader the most watched NBA Opening Night doubleheader in Turner’s 27 years of tipping off the season.

Other highlights from TNT’s exclusive doubleheader include:

• TNT’s opening night doubleheader saw double digit growth in ratings, total viewers, households and all key demos over last year’s record setting exclusive openers (Celtics/Cavaliers, followed by LA Clippers/LA Lakers).
• Locally the games delivered huge audiences in their home markets of Miami (15.5 HH rating), Boston (17.1 HH rating), LeBron James’ former home market of Cleveland (10.6 HH rating), Houston (7.4 HH rating) and Los Angeles (9.7 HH rating).

Joyce Julius & Associates, who determine accurate measurement and evaluation of sponsorships and promotional programs, offered some very interesting insight into the impact LeBron had Tuesday night.

While the Boston Celtics may have been victorious on the court during its opening night matchup with the new-look Miami Heat, it was LeBron James who was most on the minds of the TNT broadcast crew, as the iconic player’s name was mentioned 157 times during the telecast—41% more than the next most-mentioned player, Dwyane Wade.

According to research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates, Inc., the Miami power trio of James, Wade and Chris Bosh were mentioned individually on 333 occasions throughout the broadcast.

Meanwhile, Boston’s version of the Big Three—Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce—had their names referenced just 174 times, or some 90% less than their Heat counterparts. Boston free agent signee Shaquille O’Neal provided the star power for the Celtics, collecting 78 TV announcer mentions.

The Boston Celtics won the game and were accordingly mentioned 17 more times than the Miami Heat, 174 to 157, respectively.

Nike has been consistent in their support of athletes in troubling times. Nike was steadfast earlier this year in their support of Tiger Woods. Nothing has changed as to what Tiger did and that his marriage is over. He’s had a terrible year on the golf course. However he did play well at the Ryder Cup and it appears Tiger is on his way back. He may never manage to become the icon he once was but it doesn’t seem like everyone is angry with Tiger Woods these days. Is he a better man? No, that hasn’t changed, but Tiger Woods wasn’t the first and won’t be the last professional athlete or the last man or woman to pay a price for making a terrible decision in regard to his marriage.

CNBC’s Darren Rovell put Nike’s LeBron James commercial in proper context – at the end of the day it’s all about Nike’s bottom line, the selling of shoes. According to Rovell, in the first two hours of its release Monday afternoon on YouTube, approximately 9 out of every 10 people who posted Nike LeBron commercial on their Twitter account felt that the ad was good.

ESPN reported Wednesday The first Heat cards of James and Chris Bosh that were found in packs of officially licensed NBA cards have fetched as much as $42 in online auctions tracked by Beckett Media.

According to the ESPN report those are prices paid for just standard basketball cards, not ones that include an autograph or a piece of a game-used jersey on the card. That's not bad at all, according to Beckett Senior Market Analyst Keith Hower, and that's the kind of interest that should remind basketball collectors of another elite player.

"The last time a team change for a marquee player had such an impact on the hobby was the return of Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform," Hower told ESPN. "A Jordan Bulls card would typically trade for around $5, but the new uni saw his first Wizards cards selling for upwards of $25 per."

Both Bosh and James made their Heat debuts in the 2009-10 Panini Season Update set, which was the final product before this season's cards arrived. Bosh's card in the set has sold in online auctions for anywhere from 30 cents to $14 with a typical high of about $10.

James' card has proven to be a bit more pricey -- but still as volatile -- as it has sold for as low as $17 and as high as $42. Hower said a majority of the sales fell between $15 and $30, which is where the card presently sits in Beckett's price guide.

Just in case Heat fans didn't have enough cards to look out for, though, Panini America, the lone licensee of NBA cards, just recently tipped off its season with 2010-11 Panini Prestige. That product includes more than 20 cards of James and more than a dozen different Bosh cards that just might be hotter once the season is in full swing.

LeBron and company, according to Bloomberg Media, have been very good for Miami’s economy.

“We’re well aware that the eyes of the world will be on Miami, and we wanted to put our best foot forward,” said Marc Sarnoff, chairman of the Miami Downtown Development Authority and a city commissioner in a Bloomberg Media report. Heat owner “Mickey Arison probably gave us a better stimulus package than 10 Barack Obamas combined.”

“Everything that could have been done within the timeframe before the Heat opening night has pretty much been done,” said Sarnoff.

James may create as much as $21 million in new economic activity to Miami, less than 1 percent of the city’s overall tourism revenue, said Chris Lafakis, an economist at Moody’s

“There’s absolutely going to be more people coming from out of town,” he said in a telephone interview. “But given the size of Miami’s economy, it’s not going to be a noticeable boost.”

“My guess is that the Heat is not going to play to too many empty seats on the road,” NBA Commissioner David Stern, said at a news conference last week. “It’s certainly not a zero-sum game. There’s been an addition because many teams are selling the Heat as part of a package, part of a grouping of games.”

As the Bloomberg report pointed out when James uttered these words during his televised special “taking my talents to South Beach,” LeBron’s choice of words and how he made the announcement hurt his image. A Seton Hall University Sports Poll found that 22 percent of respondents view James less favorably because of how he handled the free-agent process, with just 2 percent viewing him more favorably.

James mistakes included not telling the team he had played the first seven years of his career for, the Cleveland Cavaliers (James was born and raised in nearby Akron). It wasn’t Chutzpah on James’ part – it was a public relations mistake. It’s worth saying it again – he made the right basketball decision, he just went about announcing his decision the wrong way.

When it comes to the rise, fall and resurrection of a basketball superstar the rise, fall and resurrection of Kobe Bryant can serve as exhibit A and, like Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre, Bryant faced sexual related allegations, far different from what LeBron James is guilty of – bad media management. The Miami Heat are a team no one other than their fans in South Florida appear to like – but they’ll sell out their season (home and away) generate GREAT ratings and deliver brand recognition to the NBA – and that is good for business and LeBron James.

For this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN

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