According to Magic Johnson, if LeBron James “wants to be a billionaire, or close to it, [he’s] gotta go to New York.” Nike, however–the company that is LeBron’s top sponsor–believes that another destination is more vital for achieving this goal.
In today’s ‘Courting the King’ segment on SportsCenter–part of a weeklong series in which ESPN evaluates the major bullet points of LeBron’s impending Free Agency–ESPN evaluated Nike’s strategy of creating LeBron James as a global brand and showed why China, currently the world’s largest basketball market with over 300 million basketball enthusiasts, is a necessary step on the path toward LeBron’s billion-dollar aim.
The biggest reason, as CNBC’s Darren Rovell explained: “It’s clearly not about US market size anymore when you talk about endorsements.” And thus, based on the numbers, China, whose number of basketball fans almost totals the population of the United States, is the most logical place to look to. (Currently, according to Rovell, Nike has a $400 million basketball operation in China experiencing stunning annual growth of about 12%-15%. To put this in perspective, Nike’s basketball-related profit in the United States is growing annually at just 1%.)
But, according to Terry Rhodes, owner of a marketing firm in Shanghai, the Chinese are attracted only to champions–a category that (as has been widely harped on, particularly after the Cavaliers’ loss to the Celtics this year) LeBron is yet to fall under. On this note, Rhodes offers a suggestion:
“For LeBron and Team LeBron, the ultimate objective has to be get those rings onto LeBron’s fingers, and then, the rest of the opportunities in China really can become available.”
The numbers seem to back this up. Ever wonder why Kobe Bryant’s jersey keeps outselling LeBron’s year after year despite LeBron’s meteoric rise in popularity in the United States? According to Rovell, Kobe’s popularity is “at least two times bigger” than LeBron in China, a fact that has caused Kobe’s jersey to continue to be the number one selling jersey in China (LeBron is number 2. Also, it’s worth noting that LeBron has risen from 7 to 2 over the course of a year. Question, though: If winning is so important, why is Tracy McGrady #4 on this list?? He’s never won a playoff series. We’re aware of this right? Someone get me on the phone with China.).
It is for this reason that ESPN reporter Mark Scwartz tells us, “If James decides that being in New York is not his best opportunity to be a champion, don’t expect him to succumb to the seductive appeal of Madison Avenue.”
Or, sadly, as I like to call it, the worst bargaining chip known to man.