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Earlier this week it was reported that NBA mega (douche) star LeBron James has joined forces with John Henry and his massive sports ownership/marketing firm, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), of which Tom Werner is also a principle owner. Its well known LeBron is a huge Yankees fan and it’s also possible he could play a key role in the Celtics not-to-distant playoff future and thus, this is sports news in Boston. But what does this mean? How will it affect a Boston sports fan?
In short, it means nothing to most people (at least in this country) and it probably won’t affect you (as a Boston sports fan) one iota. Well, I take that back. You may have to stomach seeing LeBron’s mug once and awhile if he graces the Fenway faithful with his presence. But with his schedule that’s probably once or twice a year. If that. He’s much more likely to show his face in Anfield (Liverpool FC’s stadium) than Fenway.
The primary motivation for this deal is globalization. Keep it global, keep it gator (if you actually know that reference you get a gold star for your Funkmaster Flex knowledge). Let’s face it. It’s common knowledge that soccer is a global sport. It’s much bigger worldwide than any other sport. Period. You don’t have to like it, but facts are facts. But there is increasing pressure for European clubs to expand globally, and in particular Asia. It’s the fastest growing market in the world and if you happen to glance at any type of financial publication you’ll know that trend isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, John Henry’s own Liverpool FC was under fire recently by their primary sponsor, Standard Chartered, to sign more Asian players to gain more a presence in that part of the world. Their view is, Europe is already saturated with soccer clubs. So the chances of selling significantly more merchandise are slim. BUT, if you can expand into Asia, it’s basically carte blanche to sling all of your crap to literally over a billion people. I get it. Money is good, especially when there’s more of it.
The NBA gets it. Probably more so than any of the other big 4 sports association in the USA. David Stern has been licking his chops over globalization for the past 10 years (if not more). He probably giggled like a school girl and did squat thrusts at the emergence of Yao Ming. I would too if I were him (and had the knees for it). But the NBA is in the best position to expand globally vs. the NFL, MLB, and NHL. Basketball already has a very strong presence in Europe plus they already have a superstar athlete from most major continents. It should be a slam dunk (pun fully intended).
Preseason games in Europe and Asia have been played over the past few years and this year, for the first time ever, two regular season matchups were scheduled in the UK between the Nets and Raptors. But where the NFL falls short, the NBA charges ahead to not just Europe but Asia as well by having the Nets vs. Rockets in Beijing, and in Mexico with the Spurs vs. Clippers in Mexico City. And I’m sure all of you are familiar with that dynamite marketing plan of Latin night or whatever they’re calling it when Los Suns faces off against Los Spurs. ¡Qué juego! Everybody has a a great time.
As far as I can tell there are two important things of note. One, it’s the first athlete FSG will exclusively represent as a single sports star. As such, this venture does pose a bit of risk for LeBron, which is why a partial stake in Liverpool was probably needed to persuade James to join the firm with little specific experience. Two, it’s the first time an athlete at the top of his game has become a partial owner of a team that has the international clout that Liverpool enjoys. Liverpool is sick. Well they used to be anyways. But their brand is rock solid. According to Deloitte’s 2010 Football (soccer) Money League report, Liverpool is the world’s eighth-biggest soccer team by revenue, with $320 million in revenue during the 2009-10 season.
Listen, I think at this point LeBron would be the first to tell you he’s a business man first, and a basketball player second. LeBron is a semi-smart guy. He recognizes that basketball is the quickest/easiest way for him to become rich and, eventually, a global icon. I’m sure he wants to win bad. But not to solidify his legacy in the NBA and its pantheon of great players. He wants to win to open up markets. He’s a passionless, phenomenal talent. Which is why he really didn’t give a sh*t when he shut it down in the playoffs last year. Or, he had the balls to do The Decision. LeBron is breaking new ground in this hybrid world of cross pollenization of markets. Maybe LeBron is ahead of the game, being a trailblazer for those to come next. Maybe he’s just a massive douche. Not my call to make.
LeBron wants to pursue other things. He treats basketball the same way most people treat their job. Last year LeBron partnered with Dr. Dre to launch a line of high-performance sports headphones known as PowerBeats. Remember when Dr. Dre was randomly at Fenway during the early part of last season. I do. I remember thinking WTF? Then I just made sure to listen to The Chronic the next day. In hindsight, it makes a little more sense.
To think LeBron will have any impact on whether or not Kenny Dalglish stays on as the manager at Liverpool is absurd. I wonder how much say John Henry will have in that for christ’s sake and owns the goddam team.
Make no mistake about it. This deal is about selling merchandise in Asia.
Liverpool’s current manager Kenny Dalglish had a great reaction when asked what he thought about the deal. Speaking at a press conference earlier today, Dalglish said: “I don’t mean to be disrespectful but I don’t him. He’d probably say the same about me. But it’s the business side, the owners have done it, it’s marketing – I don’t think he’ll be available for Monday will he?” Classic.
I work with an Irish guy who is a die-hard Liverpool fan, and I think his reaction pretty much sums up how most people feel about this news. I asked him what he thought about the deal as a Liverpool fan. He stood pensive for a second then responded, “Can I still hate LeBron?” Yes, yes you can.