Look Which NBA Finals Winner Could Score Some Endorsement Deals

Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban Toned Down Brash Persona to Become a Good Fit for Key Brands, Experts Say

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Mark Cuban: the sports world's next endorsement star?
Mark Cuban: the sports world's next endorsement star? Credit: AP

The most marketable figure from the National Basketball Association Finals didn't score a single point. And before the jokes start rolling in, no, it isn't LeBron James -- although his marketability might have taken a hit after his performance in The Finals.

Sports-marketing experts say Mark Cuban, the owner of the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, is emerging as the most unlikely member of the team to score in the lucrative world of sports endorsements -- not that the billionaire is hard up for scratch. Dallas beat Mr. James and the Miami Heat, four games to two.

"He's more charismatic than any of his Maverick players," said Bob Dorfman, creative director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising. "As a fabulously successful entrepreneur, he could certainly make a compelling pitchman for any business-related product or service -- from telecom to computers to banking -- though it's doubtful he needs the money."

Mr. Cuban already has a relationship with Samsung, has been a reality-TV participant on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," and had a cameo appearance as himself in the hit HBO series "Entourage." Though brash and outspoken -- he has accumulated more than $1 million in fines from the NBA during his tenure in Dallas -- Mr. Cuban is considered one of the best, if not the best, owners in sports, and he drew high praise on two fronts during the finals.

One, he was uncharacteristically silent throughout the six-game series (although he made up for it by dropping an expletive on live TV after Sunday night's win). Two, he graciously stepped aside during the trophy presentation to allow aging Donald Carter, the original owner of the Mavericks and the man who brought the franchise to Dallas 31 years ago, to accept the championship trophy.

"The entire storyline of Mark Cuban as an NBA owner is ripe for opportunity. Mark started as a brash young owner and within league circles now he's done some wonderful things," said Chris Lencheski, president of New York-based Phoenicia Sports and Entertainment. "Mark giving Mr. Carter the opportunity to hold the trophy was one of the best moves you'll see. How many owners would have even thought of that ? That was a world-class move."

"He's extremely marketable, certainly more so now than ever," said Kenneth Shropshire, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of "The Business of Sports." "His good behavior during the finals was a big plus . It was interesting that he displayed a barrel full of selflessness by getting off of the stage when ABC was seeking to make him the centerpiece. The true measure of Cuban will be revealed if he uses this moment for societal positives, rather than personal financial gain. But he can't be faulted if he uses it to further raise the Mavericks' brand."

Ad Age tried to reach Mr. Cuban through his preferred method of contact, email, but he did not respond by press time -- no doubt basking in the glow of the franchise's first championship.

Someone not basking in the glow is Mr. James, who drew much criticism last summer after announcing in a live TV program on ESPN named "The Decision" that he planned to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Mr. James nonetheless played brilliantly throughout the playoffs until the finals. In six games against the Mavericks, he scored only 18 total points in the fourth quarter and was badly outplayed by NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks.

Mr. Dorfman, who puts out a marketability report after every NBA Finals, World Series and Super Bowl, said Mr. James' "un-superstar like" performance might have cost him $10 million in new endorsements.

Mr. James makes more than $40 million a year in deals with Nike , Sprite, McDonald's and State Farm, none of which will be affected, Mr. Dorfman said.

"Nonetheless, it's tough to recommend paying top dollar right now to a jock as polarizing as he's become," Mr. Dorfman added. "At least not until he proves he can deliver in the clutch and win it all."

In seven years in the league, Mr. James has been to the finals twice -- once with Cleveland, once with Miami -- but has yet to win a title. When he signed with Miami as a free agent, he spoke of winning multiple championships for the Heat.

"There's no question he lost some marketability," said Bill Sutton, principle of Bill Sutton & Associates, Orlando, Fla. "He made a promise about winning six or seven championships, and whether he meant this year or not, he got there and didn't win it. A lot of this goes back to 'The Decision.' He went from one of the most respected athletes to one of the most reviled. There were people who don't even care about the NBA Finals that tuned in to see what happened to him."

Indeed, Sunday's Game Six drew a whopping 15.0 rating. In the aftermath of the series, Mr. James has drawn a great deal of criticism, including one ESPN announcer who said his next move should be to the coach of a sports psychologist to help him deal with his fourth-quarter woes.

But sports marketing expert Lou Imbriano, CEO of Boston-based TrinityOne Sports, said this, too, will blow over.

"Everybody guns for the guy on top," Mr. Imbriano said. "Everybody enjoys seeing a guy like LeBron enjoy some misery. He's still marketable. He's probably one of the three most marketable athletes in the U.S., if not the world."

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