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LeBron James, and CEO of LRMR Marketing, the sports-marketing firm they formed along with pals Randy Mims and Rich Paul.
When Mr. James fired agent Aaron Goodwin, the collective jaws of the NBA and the sports-marketing world dropped. The well-respected Mr. Goodwin had negotiated Mr. James' celebrated $90 million contract with Nike. Then Mr. James ydid the almost unthinkable in the sometimes stuffy world of sports marketing -- he handed his off-the-court businesses and marketing over to Messrs. Carter, Paul and Mims.
"Let me guess," wrote one sports columnist on AOL last year. "A few years from now, when LeBron needs knee surgery, he'll have his plumber do the job. When he needs his taxes done, he'll hire Mike Tyson."
Sports marketing summit
On a sultry July day on the campus of the University of Akron, where LRMR is holding a sports-marketing summit, surrounding itself with big-hitting partners such as Coke and Nike, and seeming every bit a slick outfit, they can laugh about the quote. In May of 2005, it stung.
"People thought we were idiots or something," Mr. Mims said.
"In the beginning, no one was giving us a chance," Mr. Paul said. "But it's a new day. Sports marketing in 2006 is different, athletes are different and the way people perceive athletes is different."
The friends had a vision and a strategic plan. More importantly, they had Mr. James as owner, client and active participant.
Mr. James -- who has a pretty quick wit among friends but seems remarkably humble for a guy who just signed a three-year, $60 million contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers -- said he learned a lot off the court during his first two seasons in the league.
Wants to make the decisions
"The direction I went in the beginning -- I won't say they were bad decisions. I got a lot of good things out of my situation," he said. "But I wanted to wake up in the morning and say I did it my way. I'm not being cocky and saying it's my way or the highway; I just wanted to make the decisions."
He and his friends also wanted a new type of sports marketing. Rather than endorsements, he wanted partnerships. Sure, he still wanted, as he put it, "wealth," but he also wanted people who would get to know him and work with him in ways that would show a real understanding of LeBron -- the person and the brand.
"They're going to make it client-centric, as opposed to brands writing checks against endorsement sponsorships," said Mitch Kanner, founder-CEO of 2 Degrees Ventures and an adviser to LRMR Marketing. "They're going to create a more unified message around the brand with partners so that everybody gets what they need."
After the split with Mr. Goodwin, Four Horsemen Management was formed and gave way to LRMR Marketing. The company retained its endorsement deals with Nike, Coca-Cola, Bubblicious and Upper Deck trading cards, and enhanced a relationship with Microsoft.
Free tuition to the University of Akron for every graduating student is covered under the pre-existing Akron I Promise Network Scholarship, which was developed between the University of Akron, the LeBron James Family Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase in 2015.
To qualify, Akron public school students must graduate high school with a 3.0 grade point average. Additionally, the University of Akron provides eligible Akron Public School graduates full tuition under the separate Innovation Generation Scholarship. The Foundation has contributed an estimated $2 million in start up costs, though the number will change annually based on community needs. Students are selected based on test scores and other metrics and criteria, then placed in a lottery system.