Harvard Business School Develops Case Study on Marketing of LeBron James

A marketing class at Harvard Business School has prepared a case study of the marketing of NBA superstar LeBron James.

Miami Heat star LeBron James seems to be a subject of conversation just about everywhere these days, even at prestigious Harvard Business School.
According to a recent story in the Boston Globe, the business school’s “Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries” course prepared a case study on the marketing of James, who is undoubtedly the most heavily marketed active NBA player, despite coming up short in two NBA Finals appearances.
What companies have found, however, is that James is advertising gold, and much of that has to do with the careful way his image has been marketed by his handlers over the years. So the 80-minute class decided to look deeper into what has made James so marketable.
The students received behind-the-scenes access rarely granted by those who carefully control the image of celebrity athletes. They broke down what went into James’ decision-making when deciding which one of three video games he would endorse in 2008. His choices were Electronic Arts, 2K Games and Microsoft Xbox.
What the student quickly realized is that James is a risk-taker when it comes to the products he will align his brand with, and that the highest-dollar bidder is not always the winner with him. James often goes with projects that give more creative control, which could mean selecting the lesser known and riskier product to endorse.
“LeBron understood the value he had at the time, in addition to his value potential,’’ student Kwame Owusu-Kesse said to the Globe. “That understanding led him to make a lot of risky decisions that were admirable in terms of breaking tradition.’’
What was surprising is that the very private James opened up to the Harvard class in ways he hasn’t with most. James’ business partner and childhood friend Maverick Carter said that the basketball star was excited when he heard the class wanted to do a study on him.
Harvard professor Anita Elberse actually traveled to Cleveland to meet with Carter and others behind the marketing of James. Carter said James was pleased with the end result of the study.
He said that James was “amazed’’ at the final product, “amazed that it happened and amazed to be doing it,’’ adding that contributing to the case study made him “understand, even more, how much collaboration with the right people is valuable.’’
“These are people I can learn from, letting them understand my thinking, then hearing their opinions about it,’’ said Carter of the case study experience, which includes participating in class discussion of the James case. “I learn something every time I go to the class. It’s so much fun, it makes me want to go back to college.’’

Contact Terrance Harris at or follow him on Twitter @Terranceharris.

(Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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