Shortly after the final whistle at the Estadio de la Ceramica on Tuesday night social media was a jubilant space for Liverpool fans.
A Luis Diaz-inspired second-half comeback saw the Reds overturn a 2-0 deficit at the break to win 3-2, progressing to the Champions League final, their third under Jurgen Klopp, with a 5-2 aggregate success over Villarreal.
And among those to express their delight on social media was basketball icon and all-round sporting phenomenon LeBron James. He is a man whose links with Liverpool stretch back to when he acquired a two percent stake in the club in 2011 as part of a move by owners Fenway Sports Group to get James to sign up to their management team.
A tweet of ‘Paris here we come’ was immediately followed by a picture of James, smiling while wearing Nike-branded Liverpool apparel, and accompanied by a simple message of ‘mood’. The tweets gained some 550,000 likes combined and were sent to his 51m-strong Twitter following, many of them likely not having an emotional connection to the Reds, or maybe even football itself.
James, of course, has a vested interest in Liverpool’s success. While claiming to be a Reds fan, James has a one percent stake in FSG, which he took on as part of the reshuffle that occurred when RedBird Capital partners completed their $750m investment into the FSG in March last year. It saw James gain greater influence within FSG, and with the Reds owners looking at an NBA expansion franchise, likely in Las Vegas, further down the line, with James earmarked to lead it behind the scenes when he finishes his playing career, he has much invested in the success of FSG and their sporting properties.
The James/FSG relationship is simpatico. James’ investment into FSG gives him a seat at the table of a major sporting organisation that allows him to grow his own personal development and be party to discussions to aid the growth of the business. While FSG’s investment into James and business partner Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment company, which RedBird and Nike also got involved with last year, provides him capital and expertise to grow his own empire.
For FSG it brings on board one of the most recognisable faces in global sport, an athlete that has transcended the game of basketball in a similar way that Michael Jordan did before him. James is someone of global appeal who reaches a broad and diverse set of demographics – and that is something that is extraordinarily valuable to sporting organisations. Throw into that his and Carter’s USP of creating what is has been coined a ‘culture company’, as opposed to an entertainment business, and you have a powerful business ally, one whose marketability is almost unparalleled in world sport.
Two days after the Champions League semi-final success and Liverpool have launched their new Nike home kit for 2022/23. A more simplistic effort than the one that the Reds have been wearing this year, a shirt that has been based upon ‘Scouse solidarity’.
Following the launch of the new home shirt, on May 19, the club will launch their new training and lifestyle range, and it is likely that James plays a more enhanced role in what the offerings will be and how it is marketed moving forward, with the Los Angeles Lakers star a lifetime Nike ambassador having inked a £30m-per-year deal back in 2015.
Speaking to the Boston Globe in November, Liverpool chairman Tom Werner said: “We’re doing a product line with LeBron and Liverpool.
“Nike is creating seven or eight products that connect LeBron with soccer. I don’t know specifics yet, but they’re going to create seven or eight products that rival the connection that Michael Jordan has with Nike.”
The Nike/James/Liverpool relationship is only set to grow, especially now that the club and kit supplier are almost two years into their partnership, and given the potential of now seeing major returns on the merchandising deal that the two have – where Liverpool get 20 percent of global sales of Nike/Reds merchandise on top of their £30m-per-year guaranteed sum – due to society having been opened back up globally and more retail and merchandising streams returning.
Expect to see James play a part in showcasing the Liverpool range in some way. It is an ace in the hand and a marketing tool that very few sporting organisations globally can turn to, and one that will help the club’s attempts to see strong returns on their lifestyle range stand a better chance of succeeding, reaching as many demographics as possible, and trying to open up the brand to those who might not even have an interest in football.