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Is LeBron Adding 'Heat' to His Digital Brand, Too?

  |  July 9, 2010   |  Comments

The free agency saga for "King James" may now be over. But with legions of new Twitter followers and a growing Facebook audience, it may only be tip-off time for his social media empire.

Now that LeBron James has signed with the Miami Heat, folks who are sick of hearing about him can relax. But probably not for long. "King James" and his team at LRMR Marketing & Branding are building an online presence that suggests they'll keep the superstar's brand top-of-mind in a big way.

As public interest in the athlete peaked in the last few days, Cleveland-based LRMR leveraged the incredible amount of free publicity his brand received by getting his Twitter presence launched on July 6. In less than 12 hours, he amassed more than 150,000 followers on the micro-blogging site. By Thursday night, James had totaled more than 320,000. He invited those followers Thursday morning to tweet questions to be used for his 9 p.m. interview on ESPN, which allocated one full hour of programming to the basketball player's announcement that he'll play for the Heat.

Unlike the Twitter account, James' Facebook page isn't brand-new. (It's around 100 days old.) Yet according to InsideFacebook.com, it's gained 234,000 new fans/"People Like This" in the last week while picking up 42,000 yesterday alone. Like other entertainment brands, it appears his fan numbers began rapidly increasing in April after Facebook introduced the open graph protocol. James' page currently has more than 2.5 million fans.

Traffic numbers are not yet available for LebronJames.com, which launched on July 1. But interestingly, the website and his Facebook page are offering visitors the chance to opt-in for future e-mail and mobile messages.

So what kind of digital empire is King James trying to build? More specifically, could he become to social media and online what Michael Jordan has been to TV advertising for the last 20-odd years?

Stephen McDaniel, a University of Maryland professor who teaches consumer psychology and sports marketing, said James and LRMR have an opportunity to create a Jordan-like brand online. McDaniel said the basketball star could be increasingly leveraged as a standalone brand that's independent of both the team he plays for and his biggest sponsors.

"However, I would be very surprised if James' sponsors were not involved in this venture in some way," he said. "It could give him another potential stream of revenue, to promote them... It also helps him further 'brand James,' which can lead to other opportunities - whether it be merchandising or moving into other areas of media and entertainment."

Bob Dorfman, creative director and sports marketing analyst with San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising, said James hasn't been the quickest NBA player to leverage the Web. He singled out Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant as a pair who have been more aggressive up to this point. However now that James has his online initiative truly up and running, the player has every opportunity to continue capitalizing on the hype that surrounds him.

"I could certainly see him offering inside information on his website, on Facebook, and in tweets about adjusting to his new home, meshing with his new teammates, new sponsorship deals, new merchandise sales, a new Nike shoe commemorating this new phase in his career, etc.," Dorfman said. "And I'd expect his marketing partners would be more than happy to jump on this online bandwagon in any way possible. I think the overall objective for LeBron - along with winning a championship - is to build his brand globally. Growing his online presence is a key step in this process."

Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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