January 20th, 2011 by Dan Carlton
Just when I thought the wounds were healing, it was announced that LeBron is now taking his talents (in cartoon form) to YouTube. Looks like abandoning Cleveland didn’t hurt his brand after all, right?
Before I proceed, a disclaimer. Although I haven’t lived in Cleveland for a while now, I still consider it home. It’s where I was born and raised. And it’s where my sports allegiances reside. I’m not sure whether this fact helps validate or discredit what I’m about to say:
LeBron James doesn’t get branding and neither do most of his defenders.
LeBron leaving Cleveland is the equivalent of Krispy Kreme putting up end caps in Food Lion. Sure it increases revenue and broadens distribution. But it’s a slap in the face to those who passionately supported the brand up until that point.
Now, I don’t begrudge LeBron for making the decision to leave one job for another to better his career. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for that. What does disappoint me was the insensitivity he showed to the people of Cleveland and the fact that he then immediately hid behind his brand. He needed to do what was best for him and his family (and his brand). Moving to Miami would make it easier to become a billion dollar athlete. He’d be playing in an international city. He can make history not just throughout the league but around the world.
It saddens me that in it’s simplest form branding was about establishing trust and familiarity. Today, it has become shorthand for expansion and domination.
For far too many, branding has become an excuse for acting poorly. I’m sure LeBron’s brand will grow more in Miami than it could in Cleveland. But is it really just about growth? I wish there was some marketing equivalent of St. Peter who looked at more than material gain and could hold brands to account before delivering their ultimate destiny.