We’ve all done them – morning show and station stunts designed with one thing in mind:
To get attention and energize the audience
Isn’t that essentially what this LeBron James "Decision" show was all about?
But stunts can backfire and often produce unintended consequences. And by studying other stunts and promotions, we can better understand what makes them work and when they go wrong.
So let’s take a look at the winners and losers in the LeBron mess:
Dan Gilbert – LOSER – And I’m not referring to the $100K fine the NBA levied on him. For Gilbert, that’s pocket change. But while his angry stunt may have temporarily activated season ticket holders and jilted Clevelanders, the long-term damage to recruiting other high-profile free agents to his team is inestimable. Who wants to work for an owner who goes off like that? And wasn’t he recently chasing MSU’s Tom Izzo, hoping he’d leave his players and fans in East Lansing?
ESPN – LOSER – And many of you may disagree here, especially after looking at the ratings. But this was a bad programming stunt that sets a ridiculous precedent for the future. Will A-Rod demand an hour-long special for his next mega-contract? And you know that Carmello Anthony has to be wondering how he can leverage more coverage when he signs on the dotted line next year. Who enjoyed this spectacle, outside of South Florida fans?
Jesse Jackson – LOSER – As if this affair wasn’t outrageous enough, the Reverend has to somehow turn this into a racial issue – another bad stunt to get his face in the news. At this point, the only African Americans this guy represents are his immediate family members, and some of them are probably trying to distance themselves from him.
Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh – LOSERS – Sure, they’re making all the money, and their chances at championship rings just got much better. But they now play for the most hated team in the NBA, and the pressure is ON. And of course, they’re going to have to figure out how to share the ball and the spotlight with The King. And because they've taken the bulk of the available money, they'll be surrounded by secondary or even tertiary players in what ultimately is a team sport.
Cleveland – LOSER – This is nothing new. And by pinning their hopes, dreams, emotions, and dollars on this guy, being dumped in the most public and humiliating way had to be even more painful. There’s no way to put a good spin on a major market that simply cannot find a way to win anything, and now has been set back at least a decade by this debacle.
The NBA - LOSER – David Stern did his best by calling out (and fining) Gilbert, LeBron, and ESPN. But this move smells like collusion to many fans who have a problem with the idea of a dream team that was manipulated by Wade, Bosh, and the always slimy Pat Riley. And because Heat games will be televised just about every weekend this season, fans will get even more sick of this affair. But in the long run, the NBA may suffer long-term damage as its poster player has been dented by this stunt, and will never have that "Witness" glow again. For a league that thrives on superstars, this one has been downsized.
LeBron - THE BIGGEST LOSER - What a moron! His stock (outside of Miami) is sinking. He came off as a narcissistic sell-out who will obviously stoop to any level to garner attention, including using children as props for his announcement. While parents of highly recruited athletes make it a point to have their kids personally call the coaches of the teams they’ve rejected, LeBron set a horrible example with his global lack of common courtesy, respect, and gratitude to Gilbert, Cleveland, and the owners and fans of the teams that competed for his talents.
Many of the true greats in the NBA – Bird, Magic, Isaiah, Michael, Kobe – found a way to make it work with their original teams. By leaving Cleveland, LeBron admits failure with the Cavs and acknowledges his own inability to lift a team to a championship. He now sets himself up for the highest-visibility challenge with “The Three Kings.” And the way he did it insures we’ll never watch a LeBron TV commercial the same way again.
Kobe – WINNER – By having absolutely nothing to do with any of this, and keeping his mouth shut throughout.
Tom Izzo - WINNER - Just because.
That’s the thing with stunts. They have a high likelihood of getting attention and making noise. But the collateral damage can overwhelm the original goal of the promotion. Sometimes, these variables can be worked out with planning and preparation. But at other times, stunts veer out of control, and become hijacked by the consumers they were designed to shock, surprise, and awe. It often happens when the genesis of a stunt seems like a good idea ("Hey, let's produce an hour-long show to dramatically announce LeBron's decision?") at the outset, but isn't properly thought through to its conclusion. Great programmers always ask themselves, "What can go wrong here?"
Stunt carefully and do your best to visualize the beginning, middle and most importantly, the end.