Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Globalization of Sport: Nike and LeBron James

ESPN's SportsCenter had a very interesting pice on LeBron James tonight, "Courting the King: Nike's Influence" (note: I don't think these links or videos last that long). I've blogged before on Nike's slave-like practices in the global economy, and I'll get to that later.

The ESPN piece discussed how James's Nike marketing team intends to expand his global influence, specifically now in China, where as the piece states, approximately 300 million people play basketball -- about the same size of the entire U.S. population! Here's the video (while it lasts):



http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=5313213

What this piece illustrates is the globalization of sport, of American popular culture, and further, how American companies will take their products (in this case the "LeBron James brand") overseas to the biggest market. That's not saying anything terribly insightful. It's basic capitalistic business I suppose.

However, as China continues to grow as the next global super power and its population is increasingly seduced by an American-like consumer culture, we will see further unethical business practices by transnational corporations (TNC), like Nike. And it's not just the U.S. With China's economic influence across Asia and Africa, we can expect to see more of their TNCs riding their own and others' consumer culture into outrageous profits.

Update 6/22/10:
Benjamin Barber's influential essay published in The Atlantic magazine, "Jihad vs. McWorld," provides a strong theoretical backdrop to Nike's push for the "LeBron James brand" to go global.

All national economies are now vulnerable to the inroads of larger, transnational markets within which trade is free, currencies are convertible, access to banking is open, and contracts are enforceable under law. In Europe, Asia, Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas such markets are eroding national sovereignty and giving rise to entities—international banks, trade associations, transnational lobbies like OPEC and Greenpeace, world news services like CNN and the BBC, and multinational corporations that increasingly lack a meaningful national identity...

As stated quite clearly in the preceding video, from the Nike perspective, it is crucial that James win an NBA championship, not so much to cement his status as an NBA legend, but so that he can become the most effective (i.e., marketable) global icon. By eroding national boundaries through this version of pop culture, Nike creates "LeBron wannabe's" across the world, who will buy his signature shoes, jerseys, headbands, t-shirts, and so on. The production of all those goods will pose the bigger problem.

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