If you happen to luck out, you might find James ringing up customers behind the cash register in Aventura or moving boxes in the store room.
“He’s very hands-on and part of all of our creative decisions,” said Chris Julian, one of the partners in UNKNWN. “That’s what makes him a modern business man.”
As a leader in social media and an icon to fans, all it takes is a tweet from James to send an item flying off the shelves at UNKNWN. With more than six million followers on Twitter and more than 12 million likes on Facebook, James has an impressive reach. That’s why Carmex lip balm signed a partnership deal with James’ personal website.
Industry experts agree that James and others are leading the way in these new business paradigms, much the same way Michael Jordan created the roadmap for athletes in business.
“LeBron knows he’s got the potential to move product, so why not be able to benefit from that in every way you can,” said Scott Becher, managing director of the sports and entertainment practice at Zimmerman Advertising in Fort Lauderdale. “Your upside is dramatically higher when you’ve got skin in the game.”
James’ biggest endorsement deal is with Nike, which signed him to a $90 million contract initially when he entered the NBA, with an extension in 2010 that now pays him more than $10 million a year.
Industry reports estimate James’ McDonald’s deals ring up $4 million a year, while Coca-Cola pays him $16 million over six years to represent Sprite and Powerade. Add to that $6 million from Upper Deck over a five-year span. That doesn’t include deals with State Farm, Dunkin’ Brands in Asia, luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet or the newest deal with Samsung.
James has the top selling shoe and jersey this year. Nike sold $90 million in LeBron shoes wholesale last year, which translates into about $175 million in retail sales, said Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource. While LeBron’s sales are about double what Bryant sold, they’re still a fraction of the $1 billion Jordan sold last year.
But James is breaking other records with Nike’s launch of the LeBron X this fall, with prices ranging from $180 to $270. At the top range, the LeBron X+ is the most expensive shoe on the market with technology to measure an athlete’s performance.
Brands like Nike are attracted to James because of his global star power.
“We know LeBron is a special talent,” said Brian Strong, a Nike spokesman. “He connects with the consumer.”
Nowhere is that more evident than on the Miami Heat’s recent trip to China. James was mobbed by adoring fans chanting his name like a rock star. This was James’ ninth visit to the country and his second in the last month.
In-between two exhibition games, James crammed in a busy schedule of promotional appearances. On his last day in Shanghai, James posed for pictures with Sprite’s newly designed aluminum can featuring his image. Then he was quickly shuttled across town for an event with Dunkin’ Brands, where he answered questions from kids, engaged in a chopsticks contest and sunk a few baskets.
James’ Dunkin’ deal, which was announced in March, involves his role as a brand ambassador for Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins in China, Taiwan, South Korea and India.