LeBron James’ move to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency in July 2018 brought star power back to the NBA’s glamour franchise. AT&T hopes James can bring that same star power, and his millions of fans, to its latest offering.
Today, the world’s largest telecom company fully launches its new streaming service, AT&T TV (not to be confused with AT&T TV Now), with a national campaign featuring James and others celebrities like Missy Elliott, Tracy Morgan and Cookie Monster in a series of ads based on “TV Famous Mouths.”
James has dominated the NBA action on the court this season. He leads the league in assists and has the Lakers five and a half games ahead of the rest of the Western Conference in his 17th year in the NBA. Yet King James might be enjoying an even better year off the court, with a handful of new lucrative endorsement partners and the continued growth of his I Promise community.
The four-time NBA MVP’s sponsorship prowess and commitment to Akron schoolchildren converge with the multiyear AT&T agreement. As part of the partnership, AT&T’s technology and other resources will be allocated to the I Promise Village, which serves as transitional housing for families with students at the nearby I Promise School opened by James, his namesake foundation and the Akron school district in 2018.
“To have one of the biggest communications companies in the world believe in my kids and the work we’re doing to uplift families is incredible,” James said in a release announcing the agreement.
James already has a deep relationship with AT&T through the company’s Warner Bros. Entertainment and HBO divisions. His production company, SpringHill Entertainment, partnered with Warner Bros. to develop the Space Jam 2 film, which stars James and is set for a 2021 summer release. The Shop and Student Athlete are both SpringHill shows that appear on HBO. And Warner Bros. and Turner Sports invested $15.8 million in late 2015 in Uninterrupted, the digital multimedia company founded by James and his business partner Maverick Carter.
AT&T joins James’ burgeoning endorsement portfolio, which also added Rimowa luggage, Walmart and the mental fitness app Calm over the past year. General Motors revealed James as its new pitchman last month during a Super Bowl ad for the upcoming GMC Hummer EV. The above brands join James’ longtime sponsors Nike, Coca-Cola, Beats and Blaze Pizza. Forbes estimates James will earn more than $60 million off the court this year, on top of his $37.4 million salary with the Lakers. Nike represents more than half of his endorsement earnings.
James has incorporated many of his recent sponsors into his I Promise initiative, including AT&T. Walmart stocks the school’s pantry, which is accessible 24 hours a day for the school’s families, with fresh and frozen food, toiletries and other basic necessities. The content on the Calm app is available to all I Promise students and staff.
AT&T TV has been available in 13 cities to this point. It enters a crowded streaming market battling for cord-cutters, many of them subscribers of DirecTV, which AT&T acquired in 2015 for $48.5 billion. AT&T TV features an Android-based set-top box that acts like a Roku or Apple TV and offers live TV, DVR storage and on-demand titles that are also available on mobile devices.
AT&T is banking on James to attract subscribers. His 150 million social media fans across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are by far the most of any American athlete. The only athletes with more fans are global soccer stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
– Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, Sports Business