DECISIONS, DECISIONS: The Conundrum of the Crown
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: The Conundrum of the Crown
Everyone has an opinion on LeBron James’ recent announcement. Regardless of your opinion about his decision, we can probably all agree that the buzz leading up to “The Decision” was an unprecedented marketing and branding campaign launchedby an athlete. And, given this was one the best free agency classes in NBA history, the ride leading up to “The Decision” was an anxious one, with many up in arms about it being an hour-long production on ESPN. Even still, people tuned in. Why? Because we love sports and reality TV, and as many noted, this was the sports version of “The Bachelor”—what team was LeBron going to give the rose to? And when the rose was handed to Miami, the viewers, as they do with any given reality show, reacted.
Removing personal feelings from the equation, let’s put aside the actual decision, and instead focus on what was right and wrong, from our perspective as marketers, about “The Decision”.
WHAT LEBRON DID RIGHT:
Media takeover, charitable donation. Securing an exclusive with ESPN, and negotiating to have the $2.5 million in advertising revenue donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (in Cleveland, Akron, New York, Chicago and Miami). Any network, and likely all of them, would’ve gladly invited the opportunity to have exclusive rights to this announcement. It was a sports announcement, so ESPN was the appropriate stage, and their management had to choose between commerce and content. They chose the latter.
Controlling the environment of the interview. Had he held a press conference or announced via Twitter, the backlash would’ve been greater, because he could not have possibly fielded all the ensuing questions. Had he released a statement, he would’ve been called cowardly for not addressing the media. Instead, he hand-picked Jim Gray and ESPN for the interview, and in PR, we always recommend creating situations in which you can control the interview, so you control the messaging.
Capitalizing on his brand, to build a buzz. You can’t garner this much attention without establishing yourself as a brand. “King James” is a brand, and a very lucrative one at that. McDonald’s, Nike, Sprite, and State Farm are among his list of endorsement deals. He joined Twitter only two days before “The Decision”, but dominated the trending topics worldwide. His jersey was #2 on this season’s top-selling list. When your brand commands this much attention, you don’t relinquish it.
Don’t chase them, let them chase you. Any team in the league would’ve loved to have LeBron on their team—for the obvious talent reasons, but also because of the potential revenue opportunities. Having a brand like his attached to your team provides your market several marketing and advertising opportunities. LeBron narrowed down his options to six teams, and each came in to woo him with the full-court pitch. “The Decision” put both the teams and the public in the same holding pattern, awaiting his announcement.
Making his announcement on TV. This was a decision the sports world was waiting on, so it was only fitting to announce the decision on “The Worldwide Leader In Sports”. An hour-long special may have been excessive but did, in effect, guarantee viewers were going to stay tuned in. Reports were saying he was going to make the announcement at the front end of the special, but when that didn’t happen, guess what? People kept watching until he made it. However, “The Decision” really could’ve been a 30-minute special, with the announcement coming within the first ten minutes, and the subsequent interviews, commentary and analysis filling the next 20. This could’ve served to somewhat mute the “LeBron’s over-sized ego” conversation.
WHAT LEBRON DID WRONG:
Charitable props? Not using the kids from the Boys & Girls Club in a more engaging manner. Many wondered why the kids were there, and questioned if they were a mere backdrop for his decision. Had they been more engaged, viewers would’ve seen more of a reason to have them present.
Responses. The reason to control the environment is so you control the messaging. This creates a pulpit to speak from. When asked about the decision to leave Cleveland, the impact on the city and the emotion attached to it, he kept referring to all he’s done for the city and the organization. When you’re breaking up, it’s usually best to go with “it’s not you, it’s me”. The power of proper media training is priceless.
Jeopardizing his brand. From a marketing standpoint, LeBron James was established as a loved and respected brand even before he came into the league, which led to lucrative deals, and upon arrival, his level of play enhanced his brand. The media put him on a pedestal, and with “The Decision”, LeBron put himself on an even higher one. This set lofty, hard to live up to expectations, and anything less means a much longer fall from grace that can ultimately jeopardize his brand. Now, he has to live up to the hype that has been created.
Breaking up on TV. While the relationship between players and team owners is a business one, the relationship between players and their hometown fans is like an actual relationship. No one wants to get broken up with via Facebook, Twitter, text, or email. But an even bigger fear is being broken up with publicly, and suddenly. It might have been better for LeBron to first announce that he wasn’t returning to Cleveland, before adding to the media frenzy around which team he planned to pick. While he was never going to please everyone, this could’ve quelled some of the ensuing backlash.
This is a new era of news and entertainment, and we as consumers demand both. ESPN is a network, and like all networks, their success is reliant upon ratings. They gave up revenue for ratings. Mission accomplished. At the end of the day, we can all question, criticize, praise, agree, disagree, and argue over LeBron’s “Decision”…and wasn’t that the point of all this? Hate him or love him, regardless of how this reality show plays out, come this fall…we will all still be witnesses.