Much has been made about the myth that LeBron James could make more money if he signed to play with the Knicks – even though that has been debunked.
With free agency season officially underway, the Knicks are reportedly still clinging to the 1950s-mindset that endorsements only come your way if you are in the Big Apple. It’s understandable on their part, it’s not as if the Knicks can sell LeBron on their on-court success over the past decade.
And we’re not the only one who believes this. David Falk, who knows a thing or two about marketing as he is Michael Jordan’s agent, told New York’s WFAN radio:
“As big as New York is, this is not ’96 anymore. Twitter, Facebook and all of the social media I think you can be on Neptune and be a brand if your name was LeBron James. … New York offers New York. I think it is a really nice place but I don’t think the marketing advantages like you had ten or fifteen years ago area as relevant as today.”
The Knicks reportedly made off-the-court riches a major part of their pitch to LeBron on Thursday, trying to convince LeBron that a player can earn more, on and off the court, if they play in a top market like New York. According to ESPN:
Forbes reports the Knicks hired the consultants at Interbrand — “the world’s largest branding consultancy” — to answer the question in a presentation the team made to James in Ohio on Thursday.
Interbrand says they analyzed more than 200 variables (titles won, all-star appearances, MVPs won) compared to more than 20 historical players (Jordan, Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain) and ran the model 50,000 times to see how much money James was likely to make living in different NBA cities.
Here’s the first problem: James isn’t like any other player. Jordan, Barkley, etc., weren’t playing in their hometowns. And in the case of other historical players like Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson, yes, they probably could have made more money playing in NY because they played in the 1960s, the world was a much different and larger place then.
Speaking of branding errors, James made one years ago when he alienated fans by saying that he wanted to be a billionaire. That desire was at the root of the Interbrand case that New York City is the best choice for future earnings.
I’m not sure who these “fans” are that were alienated by James, but I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t Cavs fans.
Interbrand says James is:
- 46.6% likely to earn a billion dollars in New York. The strong Knicks’ team brand, combined with a shortage of past titles, makes it ripe for James to be seen as heroic to a huge market with national and international media exposure.
- 1.3% likely to earn a billion in Cleveland. His “hometown hero” status helps Cleveland leapfrog Chicago, as does the Cavalier’s lack of past success — win a title there and they’ll love you forever.
- 1.0% likely to earn a billion in Chicago. The challenge there comes from the “high threshold for creating that legacy” thanks to Jordan’s six titles and a fanbase that is not easily wowed.
- 0.0% likely to earn a billion in Miami. Interbrand finds that in Miami “low can avidity, size of fan base, media reach do not able brand stretch.”
How did Interbrand come up with those numbers? Nobody knows. But Interbrand clearly knows who was paying the bills for this “study.”
There’s not much in the presentation about what precisely went into this analysis, and you can’t help but wonder what they may have left out.
So, the Knicks hire a firm to determine if playing for the Knicks would make LeBron more money and the result is overwhelmingly in New York’s favor. Well, you can’t argue that the Knicks didn’t get their money’s worth out of the study.
While it’s highly doubtful that James would benefit more by playing in New York, there’s little doubt who would benefit: the Knicks. According to The New York Times:
If James signed with either (the Knicks or the Nets), it would allow the MSG Network or the YES Network to boost advertising rates and eventually increase subscriber fees. A vigorous, competitive Knicks franchise could elevate the stock price of its parent company, Madison Square Garden, which also owns MSG. Recent trading in Garden shares has not firmly reflected investors’ optimism or pessimism about the prospect of signing James. On Wednesday, the stock price closed at $19.67 a share.
In a distant era nearly as faded as when men wore fedoras to arenas, Knicks games made a meaningful contribution to the MSG Network. Fans with little to cheer at the Garden can only turn to MSG’s 30-minute video bios of old Knick greats and its vault of old game broadcasts. Holy Nate Bowman — Willis Reed just turned 68.
Last season, the second in the Clear the Cap Space Era, the Knicks’ TV rating cratered at a mere .91, or 68,193 TV homes — a loss of two-thirds of the audience in a dozen years.
Compare that to the Cavs, who averaged 8.59, the highest local rating in the NBA and the second-highest among all NBA, NHL or MLB teams in 2009-10.
The Knicks own presentation highlights the biggest problem in their quest for LeBron: the study calls a championship “the single most important driver of brand value.” For James’ image and off-court income, nothing matters more than winning a title.
The Knicks haven’t won a title in 37 years, haven’t been a contender in more than a decade and have spent the past two years gutting their team just so they can offer James a contract.
Compare that to the Cavs, who have done everything they can to build a winner ever since LeBron arrived in town.
It’s clear the Knicks would benefit if LeBron were to sign with them. But there’s no evidence, however, that LeBron would benefit from signing with the Knicks.
Well played, New York, well played.