There is an old marketing rule – perception is nine tenths of the law. The phrase is one of those timeless business truths. No matter what action a brand does or does not take, it is setting an expectation with its audience. Something as simple as a coupon offer for 15 percent off means a company is willing to discount its products.
Read that last sentence again, but put the emphasis on the “count” part of the word “discount” this time. It reads differently, doesn’t it? Even a coupon results in creating a perception that a company does not feel as good about its product as we all may think. The company is willing to cut the price simply to sell more. A high end brand would never stoop to such depths… which is why high end brands are perceived as “high end.”
It is a simple marketing example that proves how perception matters. A one-time discount on a product now sets a brand on a course for diminished perception.
Good marketers care as much about the short term pay off from a decision as its long tail. Unfortunately for LeBron James and company, LRMR Marketing is not good at marketing. Unfortunately for this debate, that doesn’t matter.
This is a debate about whether LRMR’s approach is good for the NBA, and both arguments are worthy contenders for this debate’s crown.
Babe Ruthless is correct that some of the virulence in the media (that has been rightly directed at LRMR, at least for bad marketing) has gone a bit too far. The guys that comprise the company are not public enemy number one. After all, there are no marketing or perception police.
Babe Ruthless does, however, oversimplify LRMR and its actions as simply “a marketing agency.” First, we would have no reason for a debate if LRMR was simply a marketing agency and nothing more. Second, creating perception creates consequences. LRMR’s job is not as simple as promoting a player or buying advertising space somewhere. Therefore, the oversimplification of LRMR as a marketing agency is nearly as bad as the other extremes we see in the media.
The point that really stuck with me from this controversial but incisive argument is Babe Ruthless’ commentary about Michael Jordan. Babe Ruthless is also correct that Michael Jordan has a great brand. In many ways Michael Jordan invented the sports marketing brand. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson endorsed brands and made money, but Jordan transcended basketball, and even sports. The thing about MJ’s brand, though, is that it did not become fully developed until he won a championship.
LRMR is trying to replicate Jordan’s success for its entire client base. But, it is attempting to circumvent that pesky “championship” and get right to the vast riches. I neither condone that methodology nor believe it will work in the long run. The idea is to put the player above everything. The result is short term attention, money, and possibly championships – though I doubt the last one at this point.
Bleacher Fan offers up a very interesting analogy to boxing. ESPN writer Bill Simmons made an NBA to WWF analogy, but I believe Bleacher Fan’s effort is more suitable. While myriad other factors have diminished boxing’s shine, when a sport becomes too fixated on the players, everyone involved suffers except for a rich few who sit back and count money. Players do not control media contracts, they do not deal with the rigors of marketing and advertising, and they do not do a thing on the operations side. NBA players often act as though the owners – and even the fans – do not matter. LRMR, which acts as a boxing promoter in Bleacher Fan’s sharp analogy, perpetuates these issues by working hard to remove the focus from teams and put it solely on individual players.
Is that player-first, inherently selfish ideology pushed by LRMR good for the NBA? No, it’s not – though Babe Ruthless makes a compelling case.
The danger here is two-fold. Fans leave as a league becomes too focused on players. It’s a fact. Review any history of any lockout in any sport and that is obvious.
The other negative outcome is potentially even greater because the team-nature of the sport gets stripped the more players steal control from the league.
Bleacher Fan acutely describes the Rubicon moment for boxing, when the governing bodies allowed boxers to receive bigger paychecks by moving the sport to pay-per-view. I agree with Bleacher Fan that when money becomes the focus, selfishness gains prominence and rusts the luster off of a sport. Any ideology that marginalizes both fans and ownership is dangerous, and it is currently what is plotting a course for the demise of the NBA.
Do not assume that this verdict is a tacit nod to the supremacy and greatness of the league and its owners. It’s not. Many owners are lousy for their teams, their players, and their fans. But NBA’s union does a good enough job at giving players leverage in negotiating. LRMR, however, has found dangerous loopholes in a toothless NBA. The owners must circle the wagons to avoid significant damage to their investments and the league as a whole.
I do disagree with Bleacher Fan on one point. LRMR hasn’t cheapened ESPN. ESPN cheapened ESPN, LRMR just has aligned goals. Bleacher Fan is right that ESPN sold its soul for relationships with athletes. But LRMR brokered the deal.
Bleacher Fan wins this debate for rightly pointing out that the NBA is about competition between teams. Babe Ruthless constructed a great argument. But any actions that undermine the fundamental element of teamwork should be severely punished.
Sports easily fall victim to selfishness… especially in an age where self-promotion is simple, and consequently rampant. I was on the fence about this when I wrote the intro. Bleacher Fan has absolutely convinced me that LRMR Marketing is in the business of making individual players bigger than teams, and even the league. LRMR is setting a dangerous precedent right now, and the league is in a position to stop it with the pending labor agreement up for conversation next year. The league must do whatever it can to save itself.