ESPN defends LeBron's "The Decision"

BRISTOL, CT: On ESPN Thursday night, basketball star LeBron James will be interviewed in a one-hour television event, announcing his decision about where he will play basketball now he is a free agent.

BRISTOL, CT: On ESPN Thursday night, basketball star LeBron James will be interviewed in a one-hour television event, announcing his decision about where he will play basketball now he is a free agent.

For "The Decision," James chose freelance reporter Jim Gray to do his first official interview, followed by ESPN's NBA analyst Michael Wilbon. The event has caused some controversy, with media outlets arguing about whether it is ego-driven or too controlled, and whether ESPN would hold breaking news in favor of its exclusive.

But according to Chris LaPlaca, SVP of communications for ESPN, the network, which was approached by James' camp about a week ago, "asked ourselves every question that's been posed" and thought about all the issues before saying yes.

"They're not controlling anything we are going to do. There isn't a list of questions that had to get approved," LaPlaca said. "It's no different than any other interview we would do with any other athlete."

But he did concede the hour-long event is unusual: "He is one of the most impactful players in the league and where he decides to play will have a huge impact for many years to come."

ESPN's communications strategy around "The Decision" is less about building buzz for the already-buzzed-about event and more about responding to critics and addressing misconceptions, LaPlaca added.

"There's a lot of grey in this. It hasn't been done before," he said. "We felt that, editorially, we were on solid ground."

Bryan Harris, COO and managing partner for sports PR agency Taylor, said this is a smart move for ESPN and "a very bold approach" for James. The response to his unusual TV event, Harris said, will depend on where he goes to play.

"People could look at it as a bit too much of self-aggrandizement and maybe a slap in the face of his hometown," Harris said.

During the event, proceeds from the advertising, which were secured by James' marketing company LRMR Marketing, and not ESPN, will go to the Boys and Girls Club of America, to build basketball courts for youth nationwide. Microsoft's Bing and University of Phoenix are co-sponsoring the event, and other sponsors and companies donating to the charity include McDonald's, Vitaminwater, Nike, and Sprite.

"In some ways, it is a fascinating case study in building a personal brand, and in other ways, it's a turn-off on how celebrity and personal brands can overplay their card," Harris said. "My guess is that LeBron, wherever he is playing, will continue to build his brand and his stature."

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