LeBron James merchandise languishes in Cleveland area, but his brand sells elsewhere
Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010, 9:33 AM Updated: Wednesday, October 13, 2010, 2:28 PM
Janet Cho, The Plain Dealer Janet Cho, The Plain Dealer
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lebron-calendar.jpgView full sizeA Wisconsin company is trying to sell this calendar, printed before LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Cleveland-area residents aren't showing much interest in James merchandise, but his brand is popular elsewhere.
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- It was horrible timing by a company called Perfect Timing Inc.
The Wisconsin company printed and shipped a 2011 Cleveland Cavaliers calendar featuring LeBron James on the cover -- then James quit the Cavs in a live ESPN broadcast July 8.
Needless to say, the $14.99 calendar is not selling in Cleveland. Not even collectors -- people who might value an unopened James calendar -- are buying his merchandise here.
But James' brand remains marketable in other parts of the country, where he's become an even larger national figure, said Tina Facca, assistant professor of marketing at John Carroll University's Boler School of Business.
"Some collectors may still want to revel in the team's heyday," she said. "Those products will still sell" - just not in Cleveland.
Perfect Timing quickly revised its Cavs calendar to feature Mo Williams on the cover, but the original Turner Licensing NBA calendar is still for sale in several stores, including major bookstores, Costco warehouses and some sports shops.
At B&B Sports Cards in Fairview Park, "anything with a Cavs uniform on it and LeBron James, all that stuff is being discounted big-time," said owner Bob Prunty.
Cavs blankets bearing James' image used to sell for $30. They're now barely moving at $15.
"People just aren't buying a lot of his stuff, especially here," Prunty said.
But Prunty does have a basketball James autographed as a high-schooler during a visit to Parmatown Mall, and some unopened collectible wax boxes with his rookie card, which he expects out-of-state fans might like.
And Cardboard Heroes' website -- also catering to out-of-staters -- is offering his autographed basketballs for $899.95 and autographed Cavs jerseys for $999.95.
The stores also carry James' No. 6 Miami Heat shirts at prices up to $80. A few fans have bought them here, but Miami residents are crazy about them. As of mid-September, the Miami Heat had seen merchandise sales rise 1,000 percent over last year, with a long waiting list for James' jerseys.
Fathead.com, the Michigan retailer owned by Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert, created headlines nationwide when it slashed the prices of James' Fatheads from $99.99 to $17.41 - the year Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold was born.
All four James Fatheads -- life-size wall decals -- quickly sold out at the cut-rate price.
Fathead President Todd Lunsford said that although James remains "Fathead-worthy," fans won't see him in any Heat Fatheads until later in the season because "we use authentic game shots as Fatheads."
"With the new uniforms, traded players, new logos for some teams, etc. . . . we're still researching and designing as many products as possible with the launch of the season, and will continue to release products throughout the season as we have always done," he said via e-mail. James' Heat Fatheads will sell at full price.
Meanwhile, Cleveland-area stores are still trying to clear out their James merchandise.
Cardboard Heroes, a sports apparel and memorabilia store at Beachwood Place mall, SouthPark mall in Strongsville and Great Northern Mall in North Olmsted, still carries James' Cavs jerseys, MVP T-shirts, photos of him with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal and an autographed 16"-by-20" photo, all discounted.
But not one shopper at the Beachwood store has bought one of James' Cavs calendars.
"Customers ask about it all the time. They're just as confused as we are as to why we have them," said employee Kurt Blakeway.
Cardboard Heroes also has plenty of options for James' haters, including T-shirts priced at $19.95 to $22.
The current best-seller?
"Lyin' King," with No. 23 slashed out and the quote: "I've got a goal and that's to bring a championship to Cleveland, and I won't stop until I get it. - King James."