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The Next Marketing Star in the NBA

October 6, 2010

There comes a time when a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or even family member becomes annoying. So, why wouldn’t it happen to an athlete that I root for? I am coming to the conclusion that I am annoyed with Lebron James. It probably happened after “The Decision.” I did not realize how much of a disaster the television special was until I actually saw it. This is probably because I felt that he was going back to Cleveland, but alas, he decided to take his talents to South Beach. This isn’t another article about his poor decision making, his arrogance, or his posse. This article is about what it will take for the rising stars of the NBA to supplant Lebron as marketing stars should companies begin to worry that their multi-million dollar star is annoying the target audience.

Engaging With The People:

Needless to say, social media has changed the way that athletes engage with their fans. The conversation used to be one sided. You’d watch a commercial or see an advertisement in a magazine. Athletes were two-dimensional, but now, they’re three dimensional. What I mean is that they are real people who we can talk to. They use Twitter. They use Facebook. They have their own websites. This means that they’re talking to us – the fans, the customers, and the haters.

The next marketing star from the NBA has to embrace social media and engage with the people, or he risks being an afterthought. He has to reply to tweets and do twitviews (interviews on Twitter). He has to post pics. He has to post videos. Popularity won’t always come from being a better player but rather from interacting with the fan base. Just look at the amount of Twitter followers that Dwight Howard has compared to Lebron James. Howard has almost a million more followers. James is a better player, and Howard is a superstar that is still limited in his game and criticized by the analysts. That doesn’t matter in marketing though because we’re in an age where players can speak through avenues besides their play. Dwight Howard talks to his fans, gives gifts, and interacts. Just check out this tweet from @jfeliz13. That tells the story. Companies will follow players who are followed by people, and people follow players that interact with them

Personality:

The most popular stars have a personality that attracts people and sports stars are no different. These can range from Dennis Rodman and a bad boy image to Shaquille O’Neal and a frat boy image. Regardless of the personality, it has to be memorable in order for a company to invest major marketing dollars in an athlete. A great example of this is Charles Barkley whose humorous candor has landed numerous marketing deals from cell phone service providers to fast food restaurants. Barkley speaks his mind, people love it, and the Chuckster gets paid for it. Dwight Howard is another great example. He loves to have fun and loves to act.

The next marketing star from the NBA has to have a personality which draws people in. People will want to follow him in order to laugh or because they find something in that athlete that they want to emulate. Companies will invest their marketing budgets with players who people want to follow off of the court whether they’re representing their team, appearing for the particular company, or just seen in public. A high interest level in a personality leads to a high interest level from a company.

Style:

The players that are most marketable have a sense of style both on the court and off the court. On the court, MJ was smooth, clutch, and improvisational. Lebron is funny with his teammates yet powerful and fierce during games. Off-the-court, these marketing stars have to have style also. How many times has Lebron been in GQ and other men’s magazines. His girlfriend was in Harper’s Bazaar. The two are always photographed looking good. If you look at Lebron’s Twitter picture, you will see that he is modeling in it. It is not just a shot of his face. He believes that he is a good-looking guy and that’s the way he carries himself. Companies want stars who look good and carry themselves well. You don’t see strong players like Joe Johnson who are quiet on and off the court getting large deals to star in commercials.

The next marketing star from the NBA will follow suit – no pun intended. He’ll be a force on the court with a style that is distinguishable and his. He will be powerful or creative, or maybe, he will have a scowl or be a jokester. Regardless, his on court style will be his and kids will want to emulate it. Think Jordan’s tongue. Off the court, he will look good. He will look good coming off the bus or at a press conference. He will be wearing something new at the ESPYs. He will be interviewed in GQ. When a player begins to comfortably transition from the court to the magazine covers of non-sports related magazines, that’s when they become marketing stars. Their style takes them beyond sports and introduces them to a new audience.

Who Is The Next Marketing Star?

Kevin Durant – One of the up-and-coming stars in the NBA based on ability. His team is sure to be contending for a championship with the likes of the Celtics, Heat, and Lakers. He engages with his fans and has a great interactive website which fans like @chelly_rozay love. He has a young, talented team that allows him to show his fun and entertaining side. He’s a Nike guy, and if people continue their love/hate relationship with Lebron, Durant is sure to get more exposure – especially if the Thunder contends.

Nate Robinson – Not a huge star, but definitely a huge personality and that’s why people know him. He’s won multiple Slam Dunk Competitions and has had fun doing it. In fact, there’s not much that he doesn’t have fun doing. He’s very engaging on Twitter and gives funny insights into the Celtics through video and pictures, and he has his own catchphrase which is now on t-shirts. He’ll stay relevant because he’s on a championship contender.

Brandon Jennings – He’s a stylish guy and flashy player who caught the attention of NBA fans last year with a surprisingly hot start. He’s fun to watch because of his speed and creativity on the court. Also loves to look good, and he talks to his fans. Kept people in his world with a lot of pictures from his 21st birthday party recently. Big bonus for Jennings is that he’s the face of Under Armour’s basketball products. He has a blog on the website, and as the company continues to grow in basketball, he’ll be their face.

John Wall – The rookie who comes into the league with lots of fanfare. He immediately becomes the face of his franchise as the Wizards keep Gilbert Arenas on the roster but away from the public eye. You know that he loves to have fun and dance. The Washington Wizards even used the “John Wall Dance” to welcome him to the team. If he has success on the court, there is no reason to believe that the offers won’t role in.

Question: Who is the next big marketing star in your opinion?

– Jason Sosnovsky

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