That ratings from the 2009 World Series showed the greatest year-to-year growth in the history of baseball shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. The New York Yankees are a worldwide brand and play in the nation’s largest television market and the Philadelphia Phillies were the defending champions. It was, to say the least, a significant upgrade from the year before, when the then relatively unknown Phillies and small-market Tampa Bay Rays put up the worst Fall Classic ratings in history.
Of all places that saw a dramatic hike in viewers, however, Cleveland, OH seems to raise the most eyebrows. At least on the surface. The Indians’ were essentially eliminated from playoff contention by May and it was now basketball season, which meant it was time for the entire city to focus on LeBron James.
But the second game of The King’s season coincided with Game One of the World Series and James didn’t stand a chance. The Yankees and Phillies obliterated the Cavs and Toronto Raptors in the ratings. When you look closer, the reason for baseball’s dominance over even someone as celebrated as LeBron becomes a little bit clearer: The starting pitchers in the first game of the World Series were C.C. Sabathia for New York and Cliff Lee for Philadelphia. The two were teammates just a season ago – in Cleveland.
If anyone understands what James is going through regarding his impending free agency at the end of this season, it’s Sabathia and Lee. Both won Cy Young Awards pitching for the Indians and in consecutive years, were traded to contenders in the National League because the Indians were anything but playoff bound. Both have said they loved being in Cleveland (Sabathia even took out a full-page ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer to thank the fans) but they knew the team wouldn’t be able to match offers from some of the wealthier franchises when it came time to sign contract extensions.
In other words, Sabathia and Lee outgrew Cleveland.
James knows the feeling. With the exception of a handful of members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he has been the most famous name in Cleveland since the day the Cavs drafted him. Next summer, he’ll have the opportunity to explore Free Agency for the first time, and it’s difficult to believe that he won’t strongly consider moving on.
To be clear, the Cavaliers will offer the same maximum contract any other team offers James. Unlike baseball, the NBA has a salary cap. So money isn’t the issue. Celebrity is. More than almost any other athlete on the planet, James knows how big he can be. More than once, he’s told friends and the media that his goal is to become a global icon.
The city of Cleveland can’t help James there. With its still-declining population and still-increasing unemployment rate, the city is hardly the ideal place for anyone to build a brand. It’s not quite Detroit, but all of northeast Ohio has faced similar problems, thanks to the lack of blue-collar jobs available, poor school districts and high poverty.
If James, to borrow the Army slogan, truly wants to be all that he can be, New York might be the only viable option. The city does everything but put up a statue of him next to Lady Liberty every time he comes to Madison Square Garden. Can you imagine what 41 games a year at MSG might be like? Let’s put it this way: Jay-Z might own a piece of the New Jersey Nets, but he OWNS Madison Square Garden every time he performs there.
But even he was just the opening act for James last Friday night before the Cavs/Knicks game.
To best help explain why he needs to move to the biggest possible stage, James might want to look to someone only a few months older than he is, but worth about a billion dollars more. In the best-selling book, “The Accidental Billionaires,” about the beginnings of Facebook, author Ben Mezrich attempted to explain why founder Mark Zuckerberg made the decision to move from Cambridge to Silicon Valley.
To paraphrase: “Harvard was fine, but California was the only place to be if you wanted to be a part of the revolution.”
Things worked out pretty well for Zuckerberg. And if he were advising James, he’d undoubtedly tell him the same thing he was told: “Reach for the stars.” New York might not be the only place for LeBron to attain his lofty goals, but one thing is crystal clear:
He can’t stay in Cleveland.
This also appeared at http://nbatoday.net