“I picked Samsung because it’s all about innovating,” James said in a promotional video for the product launch. “That’s what I’ve always been about — doing something that’s different.”
Industry experts see potential opportunities for rounding out James’ endorsement profile in the areas of automobiles, financial services, retail and consumer products or packaged goods.
“He’s arguably the most marketable athlete currently in the U.S. because he brings the most long-term value,” said Robert Tuchman, president of Goviva, a sports and entertainment company. “I don’t think there’s anyone you can compare him to right now … he’s perceived as a really good guy and a winner.”
Before the Samsung deal was finalized, James downplayed any speculation about what he might have in the works.
“I’ve got a lot going on right now,” James said. “I’m not looking for too many new opportunities — unless it’s a good one.”
When it comes to making those decisions, any potential opportunities will be closely scrutinized by James and his team.
“They’ve got to be right for me, my brand and who I am,” James said during training camp.
Crafting the image for his brand is an area where James has taken a personal — and sometimes non-traditional — approach. Toward the end of his second year in the NBA he fired his agent and in 2006 established his own marketing firm. In charge of his business ventures since then has been LRMR Marketing, a moniker drawn from the initials of LeBron James and his three childhood buddies, Randy Mims, Maverick Carter and Richard Paul. At the helm has been Carter, a former Nike employee, in charge of building James’ burgeoning business.
“LeBron has always paid attention to how wealth is created,” said Steve Stoute, a friend of James as well as CEO and co-founder of Translation Advertising, which specializes in the multicultural market. “He understands that it’s not enough to be good on the court and put your money in the hands of somebody. You actively need to participate in the vision of your wealth and what you want to be after basketball.”
Unlike many athletes, James made it clear early on that he prefers equity deals, not just endorsements. One of James’ most heralded deals: the 2011 partnership with Fenway Sports Group that gave him a minority ownership stake in the British soccer club Liverpool.
James’ business ventures include a partnership with American Signature furniture and Beats by Dr. Dre, plus an ownership stake in Cannondale bikes. He’s an investor in two local start-ups: PureBrands, the Boca Raton company that launched Sheets energy strips, and UNKNWN, a lifestyle store in Aventura Mall launched by some of his old Cleveland buddies.
It’s not unusual to see James investing in products he uses himself or views as a void in the market. The Powerbeats earphones grew out of James’ need for a product to withstand his workouts. Sheets offers the natural pick me up James and other athletes seek during games. UNKNWN features a collection of the brands the fashion-conscious James wears himself, plus limited-edition collections of his Nike shoes.