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Lakers look to King James' golden marketing touch

Lakers look to King James' golden marketing touch
Basketball star LeBron James has built his brand on multiple platforms, including films. James got good reviews in the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy "Trainwreck." (Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictures)

Like a Lakers’ fast break, the purple-and-gold marketing frenzy surrounding LeBron James already has taken off.

Only hours after the Sunday afternoon revelation that James had signed a four-year, $154-million contract with the Lakers, fans were buying replicas of James’ new No. 23 jersey at a record pace.

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The lowest price of a Lakers season ticket for Staples Center games jumped to $5,750 from $3,499 on StubHub.com, while the high end reached nearly $100,000. And even though it’s not yet known which team the Lakers will face or what date they will play their home opener this fall for the 2018-19 season, the lowest-priced StubHub ticket for the game stood at $545 for a seat in the upper corners of Staples Center.

“Only a handful of athletes in the world can have an effect on ticket demand like LeBron James can,” Scott Jablonski, the StubHub general manager who oversees NBA ticket sales, said in a company blog post Monday.

Never mind that James has yet to don a Lakers jersey or step foot on the Staples Center court as a Laker. For fans of the four-time NBA most valuable player, the Lakers and the National Basketball Assn., the Tinseltown arrival of King James and his brand-savvy team is a red-carpet event.

“We’re obviously very excited with the early results, but I think the biggest potential is yet to come,” said Jack Boyle, co-president of the direct-to-consumer business at Fanatics, which runs the NBA’s online store and holds the rights to produce the league’s replica jerseys.

James’ move also enhances his Hollywood aspirations — which already include movie and television production and occasional acting — especially after the 33-year-old basketball star’s playing days are over.

LeBron James wears a hat advertising his digital media company, Uninterrupted.
LeBron James wears a hat advertising his digital media company, Uninterrupted. (Larry W. Smith / EPA/Shutterstock)

James has been building his reputation as a multiplatform star for years.

James showed off surprising comic chops in the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy “Trainwreck,” released by Universal Pictures.

He’s got his own production company in Los Angeles, SpringHill Entertainment, and a digital media firm called Uninterrupted that produces podcasts, videos and other digital offerings and counts Warner Bros. among its investors.

SpringHill’s presence has been felt on TV screens with the Mike O’Malley-created comedy “Survivor’s Remorse,” which was canceled early this year after four seasons on Starz. That network will also host SpringHill’s “Warriors of Liberty City,” a docuseries about a youth football program funded by former 2 Live Crew leader Luther Campbell.

Among SpringHill’s upcoming projects are a reboot of the Kid ’n Play comedy movie franchise “House Party” with New Line Cinema, which is set to be co-written by Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori of the TV series “Atlanta,” and an update of the 1996 half-animated film “Space Jam,” which featured another savvy basketball businessman, Michael Jordan.

James, who owns two homes in Brentwood, also acts as executive producer on the NBC game show “The Wall,” which was renewed for a third season despite allegations of sexual misconduct leveled by an ex-girlfriend against host Chris Hardwick, who also executive-produces. This year will also see James’ name on a three-part documentary for Showtime looking at the cultural impact of the modern NBA that will be directed by Gotham Chopra.

The move to the Lakers “makes total sense” for James beyond trying to help the Lakers reach the NBA playoffs, said Ben Sturner, chief executive of Leverage Agency, a sports and entertainment marketing firm.

“It’s the home of Hollywood and entertainment and Lebron is crossing over into that,” Sturner said. “It’s a lot easier to gain access being in Los Angeles.”

But that’s not why James signed with the Lakers, said Adam Mendelsohn, the player’s media advisor.

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“SpringHill and Uninterrupted started and thrived while LeBron played in Cleveland,” Mendelsohn said in a statement. “Coming to Los Angeles was a basketball decision.

“The opportunity for artists and the broader creative community in L.A. to feel a deeper connection to SpringHill and Uninterrupted because LeBron is playing for the home team is exciting, but he will, as always, focus on his day job,” Mendelsohn said.

In any case, all the off-court action should burnish James’ already sizable fortune, as will James’ new contract. Forbes magazine estimates he earned $85.5 million last year alone, placing James sixth among the world’s highest-paid athletes; the sum included $52 million from endorsements.

The shoes worn by LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals on May 31, 2018, in Oakland. James has a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike.
The shoes worn by LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals on May 31, 2018, in Oakland. James has a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

Those endorsements include his Nike signature sneakers, Coca-Cola Co.’s Sprite soft drink and Kia Motors. James also was an early investor in Pasadena-based Blaze Pizza, and he’s still an equity holder and a franchisee with 19 of the pizza chain’s 278 stores.

His enormous impact on sports fans was evident immediately after his agency, Klutch Sports Group, simply tweeted that James had signed with the Lakers.

Fanatics was ready for the announcement, and the NBA’s online store went live with James’ replica Lakers jerseys at 8:45 p.m. Eastern time Sunday. Over the next few hours until midnight, dollar sales of the jerseys set the single-day record for an NBA player joining a new team as a free agent or by a trade, Boyle said.

Fanatics, a privately held concern, doesn’t release sales figures. But Boyle said that Sunday’s sales were 600% higher than sales of James’ Cavaliers jersey four years ago when he signed with Cleveland for the second time, and that “by noon today [Monday] we already had surpassed yesterday’s volume.”

A banner headline on the NBA site’s home page Monday exclaimed “LeBron Moves on to Los Angeles — Shop Now,” with adult sizes of the purple-and-gold jerseys starting at $69.99.

The record sales reflect the popularity of both James and the Lakers.

James’ Cavaliers jersey already was the second-most popular in the NBA in the April-June period this year, behind Stephen Curry of the current champion Golden State Warriors, and “the Lakers have a strong fan base not only in Los Angeles and California but across the country and the world,” Boyle said.

That’s why James’ association with the Lakers also is expected to boost sales of his Nike shoes, shirts and other apparel.

Teaming James with the Lakers also “helps the NBA in general by bringing back more excitement to a team that already has an amazing tradition, and that includes helping with merchandising,” Sturner said. “People want to be in on that excitement.”

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As for ticket prices, Staples Center has a seating capacity of 21,000, and StubHub, a unit of EBay Inc., said that in looking at the $545-plus prices for the Lakers’ first home game, “it’s important to note that StubHub is a marketplace and prices reflect supply and demand.”

“With little inventory and high demand for the Lakers’ home opener, prices may be inflated until more supply makes its way to the market,” StubHub said. “After the NBA regular-season schedule is confirmed [in August], we expect the market to level out.”

Times staff writer Chris Barton contributed to this report.

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