Easy is the last word that comes to mind when it comes to marketing the 2014-2015 Miami Heat.
The team is coming off an NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs, as well as the misfortune of having to say goodbye to one of the most talented people to ever touch a basketball: LeBron James. During his time in Miami, LeBron won two NBA MVP awards and helped the Heat bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy in two of four trips to the finals. The difficulty replacing LeBron’s talent would be a tall order no matter the team. But for the Heat, replacing LeBron James the basketball player and replacing LeBron James the product are two completely different challenges.
The Miami front office recently launched a more organic “Heat Nation” marketing campaign focusing on the city’s culture and devotion for its basketball team. The Heat website recently launched a six-minute video encapsulating this post-LeBron movement.
In the video, the organization attempts to send the message that it is much bigger than LeBron. While this may be true, King James’ tenure in Miami seems to suggest otherwise.
Following LeBron’s arrival in Miami in 2010, Heat team merchandise sales exploded. In each of the four years of LeBron’s tenure in Miami, the organization ranked fourth or better in the NBA in total team merchandise sales. James ranked first in jersey sales in 2011 and in 2014, while finishing fourth in 2012 and second in 2013. While Dwayne Wade jersey sales have finished around sixth and seventh in each of the past four years, the loss of LeBron will surely hurt the Heat’s merchandise sales this season.
So far this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are destroying the competition in team merchandise sales. According to Fanatics.com, they are up 700 percent compared to this period last year. And, as you might have guessed, LeBron James’ #23 Cavs jersey is the top seller league wide.
While LeBron certainly helped the Heat win games, his impact on the organization was much deeper. James exited Miami this with the Heat ranked sixth among the NBA’s most valuable franchises. James’ impact on the organization’s value was both immediate and substantial.
Prior to James’ arrival in Miami, the organization was losing money. However, following The Decision in 2010, James helped a struggling Miami franchise increase team revenues by 52 percent over four years. Considering where the Heat were in team value and revenue before James arrived in South Beach, the $67 million they paid him over four years wasn’t a bad investment.
Only time will tell whether or not the Heat will be able to maintain their franchise growth in the post-LeBron era. They will rely on their “We’re all in this together” Heat Nation marketing campaign while the Cleveland Cavaliers will leverage LeBron as their main marketing tool. Will the LeBron-less Heat be able to stay competitive in the NBA marketing space? We shall see.