Thursday, July 8, 2010

LeBron: The Media King

Watching all the screaming and kvetching going on over LeBron's State of the LBJ tonight on ESPN would be funny if it weren't so ridiculous. Especially since this isn't the first -- nor last -- time to see something like this.

I read the Advertising Age piece this morning on the horrors of ESPN giving up editorial (and more importantly advertising) control for "The Decision" airing this evening at 9:00 p.m. while watching and listening to the Emmy Award nominations.

Funny how there isn't the hand-wringing over CNN, the major networks, and radio stations coast to coast breaking into their programming at 8:40 a.m. to give a seven minute plug to the Emmy Awards.

A moment of honesty would be nice.

In LeBron's case, critics say it is an example of his selfishness that he would dare to negotiate the ground rules for his announcement. How dare he push this circus act even further into a prime-time TV show? How could ESPN agree to give up their editorial integrity and their control over their own ad inventory?

Easy. It's done all the time.

The networks vie for sports rights all the time. Broadcast and cable interests shell out billions of dollars each year to bring the Olympics, professional and college sports into your living room, cars, and mobile devices. The networks pay big money because they make big money, and all of those deals include editorial handcuffs. Every sports group -- including the NBA -- rightfully guards it's own rights when it comes to rebroadcast of their games. When you're listening to or watching that play-by-play team, consider the odds the announcers are hired by and answer to the teams they are covering.

LeBron's had good teachers by example to show him the way when it comes to marketing himself. At least he's making sure the proceeds from what is likely to be one of the highest-watched cable sports programs ever go to charity instead of a sports league or publicly-traded corporation.

On WAKR this morning, Terry Pluto sounded defeated, dejected, disappointed and disgusted with the way the LeBron Free Agency has been going on. He's right, at least on point of it leaving a bad taste in our mouths. But is it really any different than the way the NBA and NFL control Draft Day? Much different than the hype surrounding the Super Bowl? For that matter, comparable to the national soap opera played out for political junkies every four years?

This isn't LeBron's fault, he's just following the lead. It isn't the sports teams and leagues, they're just smart business people maximizing their product's brand. It isn't the fault of the media, even as we lap up every rumor and push every item into the public consciousness. We've got a role to play in this because we're the audience and ultimately we control the on/off and channel buttons.

This process is like a car wreck up ahead on the interstate; when we're behind the wheel waiting for traffic to move we just want to move on, and we decry the rubber-necking tying up our progress. But when it's time for us to pass the carnage, are you moving forward without a peek or do you slow down yourself to catch a peek of what might be under the sheet?

Want to stop all of this? Stop buying overpriced tickets. Don't spend your money on memorabilia and clothes. Check yourself out of the pack of sheep following others rather than forging their own lead. None of this is necessary to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness; it's a want, not a need.

As for LeBron? More power to Akron's own for figuring this out long ago when the line of people wanting to make fortunes off his talent extended far beyond the St. Vincent St. Mary's gymnasium. As a fan, I'd love to see him stay; as a northeast Ohioan choosing to live here, I'd love to see him turn down the arrogance of New York, living in the Michael Jordan shadow of Chicago or joining the Madonna wanna-be crowd on South Beach. Life's still real here despite Cleveland's sometimes-deserved status as a national punchline.

But if he leaves, I hope he gets a ton of money. I hope he grows his brand even further worldwide and surpasses Tiger as a billion-dollar athlete. I hope he wins more rings than Kobe. He'll always be from Akron, and seeing a native son do good is enough for me.

Not enough to shell out to get pay-per-view, though.

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