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Success on the court doesn’t help ‘Brand LeBron’ outside the arena

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Jeremy Hobson: Well, it was another incredible fourth quarter comeback in the NBA Playoffs last night. The Miami Heat overcame a 12 point deficit in the game’s final minutes to beat the Chicago Bulls and take the Eastern Conference Title. Next week, the Heat will face the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.

But Miami’s star player LeBron James is not getting the nationwide love you might expect.

And it’s all about his brand, as Phil Latzman reports from Miami.

Phil Latzman: Since bolting Cleveland to bring his talents to South Beach last year, LeBron hasn’t done himself any favors, at least according to sports marketing executive Brandon Steiner.

Brandon Steiner: Absolultely not. I mean, he’s flat.

Even with the Heat’s success, Steiner believes King James’ crown has still lost much of its lustre.

Steiner: You know, he has a few sponsors that have stuck with him, and Nike is notorious for staying with their players; they’re very loyal. But you know I don’t think that they are having a banner year with LeBron.

But there are signs that the LeBron brand is doing just fine. His number 6 Miami Heat jersey recently overtook Kobe Bryant’s as the top-selling in the NBA. Still though, it seems everyone outside of south Florida is rooting against the Heat because of LeBron, and Steiner says winning won’t cure the ill feelings right away.

Steiner: The question is, how do you settle up with the fans and get people to like you again? And does that even matter to him? Or do you play the villain role and be the bad boy?

After all, Steiner says, unlike some infamous athletes before him, James hasn’t committed any crimes, and has plenty of time to get back in the good graces of both fans and sponsors.

In Miami, I’m Phil Latzman for Marketplace.

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