The market loves winners, especially in the sports arena. Take the NBA for instance and one of its most talented players, LeBron James. LeBron could be considered the best player in NBA history, but without a championship title, he eventually becomes just another player. Before, “the decision,” LeBron was considered an upstanding, small-market basketball professional. Many considered him well spoken and well disciplined. Nicknamed the “Chosen One” and “King James,” LeBron and his brand began to rise. Midwesterners especially loved the talented athlete who brought recognition to a small-market team that forever competes with bigger market teams such as Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and the like. They were proud of their possession, which was considered one of the best in the nation. He was the one who would finally lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA championship.
But all of that changed when LeBron decided that he needed to make a business decision. One that would haunt him and follow him. One that would turn people against him. One that would have him defending his character. Having played for the Cleveland Cavaliers for seven years without an NBA championship, LeBron decided to make a career move and join the Miami Heat. With this move, he hoped to increase his chances of winning a championship, as well as his worth. Cavalier fans felt betrayed and disappointed. Others felt LeBron’s exit was less than noble and could have been handled more appropriately.
Despite the negative hype, LeBron’s brand continued to hold solid after his departure from the Cavaliers. This was evident when the Cavaliers started to experience a drop in ticket sales, eventually lowering the price to sell more tickets. In the meantime, the Heat’s attendance increased, selling out all season tickets. Forbes indicated that LeBron increased the Heat’s value by 17%, which was a $60 million increase to $425 million in just the first year. It also indicated that the Cavaliers’ value fell 26% after losing LeBron. It was evident that wherever LeBron went, people followed. In addition to ticket sales, LeBron’s brand increased jersey sales, endorsement offerings, and television ratings.
In fact, ABC reported that the NBA finals this season brought the largest audience in the last eight years. Some viewers tuned in to watch LeBron win, while others watched with the hope that LeBron would lose. No matter whether viewers wanted LeBron to win or lose, the fact that they watched reveals the strength of his brand. Already considered one of the best, LeBron’s win highlights his talent. He becomes more in demand and will likely command more endorsements. Love him or hate him, LeBron and his brand are on fire. And the championship was just the tool to fuel it.