They say it’s better to be feared than loved. Maybe the modern sports equivalent is “it’s more profitable to be hated than loved. ”
Because even as LeBron James’ global brand is expanding to collegiate teams who have Final Four spots penciled in (plus Miami), as his jersey is tops in the world, as his financial intake is the highest it has ever been, his popularity is the lowest it could possibly be. From CNBC’s Darren Rovell:
In a poll taken just days after the decision (7/11/10), James’ appeal dropped by more 11 percent, his endorsement appeal by two percentage percent and trust plummeted by more than three percent. DBI took eight more polls of the public and how they felt about James.
James’ appeal had climbed back up somewhat to almost 63 percent by May 24, 2011, his endorsement was holding steady and his trust was showing improvement.
But all that plummeted when the poll was taken after the Finals. James was criticized for not showing up in the fourth quarter and for looking down on people who criticized him. DBI’s poll taken on June 19, shows that LeBron’s appeal was at the lowest it has ever been (57%) and that his trust was hovering at all-time lows (48.87 percent).
It’s debatable as to whether this has hurt LeBron’s business. Nike said last month it sold more than 500,000 pairs of his signature shoes this past year and he was, after all, the NBA’s most popular jersey.
So this just confirms what was pretty apparent from fan, media, and league reaction to James this season and during the Finals: everyone hates the guy outside of South Beach. He’s arrogant. Okay, so what? So is everyone in the NBA and for sure nearly every superstar. He’s brazen. This in a league filled with Kobe’s jaw-jut, KG’s incessant screaming, Durant and Co.’s constant pom-pom parade after every made three, and Derrick Rose’s preseason MVP proclamation. He’s constant in his exposure… much like Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, or Dwyane Wade on television. He betrayed the team that drafted him… by leaving in free agency which he had every right to do. He did it in a disgusting way… again, brazen. So what is it? And why hasn’t it affected his bottom line?
The reality is that James is more famous than popular. He’s not loved. He’s not feared. He’s just observed. His attention is constant, even if it’s mostly negative. And for whatever reason, companies are still flocking to him as a symbol of what they want to represent. He’s not winning titles. He’s not the people’s champion.
But he’s getting his empire, one way or another.