Who is the Most Marketable U.S. Athlete in Sports?

Michael Phelps for Visa.

Throughout the duration of the Olympics, professional athletes exposed viewers to a profusion of endorsed products. Michael Phelps promoting Team Visa. Shawn Johnson (who didn’t even participate in the 2012 games) backed Coca-Cola. The list goes on and on. If a company is going to run a successful advertising campaign featuring an athlete, they will hit the correct demographic, deliver a memorable campaign that will also pass on a positive message about the brand.

I had a conversation with a group of friends over drinks and asked them who they believed was the most marketable athlete in sports today in the United States. The easy answer five years ago was Tiger Woods. Two years ago, before neck surgery, the correct response would have been Peyton Manning (who can put some charm into just about any product). After the ten-minute discussion, we were unable to reach a verdict.

As the 2012 summer nears its conclusion, the most marketable athlete in sports today is still up in the air. The Media Captain did a lot of Internet browsing, social media searching and YouTube video watching to reach its conclusion.

Peyton Manning has been a marketing machine over his career!

The answer? LeBron James. When “The King” bolted from Cleveland to South Beach, the resentment towards LeBron was astronomical. From Lake Erie to Louisiana, it seemed that everyone and their mom hated LeBron. “Cocky” and “Arrogant” were the words that media members were using to describe LeBron on the airwaves. Fans backed the sentiment of the media and couldn’t stand LeBron either.

LeBron is now a champion.

When LeBron missed a clutch shot at the end of a game, or lost to Dallas in the NBA finals, sports fans reveled in LeBron’s failures. Then something funny happened. LeBron James won a championship ring while carrying the Heat on his back and won a gold medal in London. LeBron was busy proving to the world that he is the most dominating athlete in his sport since Michael Jordan.

LeBron pulled a horrible publicity stunt at the Boys and Girls Club of Akron announcing his decision to leave Cleveland on live television. He has always avoided off the court issues and other than a couple of comments to the press that he’d like to have back; he has been the perfect role model on and off the court.

Many people forget about the great personality that LeBron possesses. He has character and charisma that translates well into clever and witty commercials (unlike Kobe, his closest US competition). He is savvy with social media and brands don’t have to worry about a PR catastrophe a la Tiger Woods.

After an NBA ring and an Olympic gold medal, free agent superstars like Ray Allen are signing with Miami at a discounted price for a shot at another championship. It seems LeBron James might have made the right decision after all. It’s just a matter of time before brands get back on board with “The King.”

Jason Parks is the Owner  of The Media Captain
The Media Captain Specializes in Corporate Video Production and Online Marketing in Columbus, Ohio and New York City