The basketball star LeBron James has secured a minority stake in Liverpool after cutting a deal with the club’s US owner.
Fenway Sports Group, which also owns baseball’s Boston Red Sox, has struck an agreement with James’s sports-marketing firm, LRMR Branding & Marketing, to be the representative for the controversial Miami Heat player around the world. In return James will become a minority owner in Liverpool. He said he was “excited to be affiliated with this incredible organisation” and looked forward to donning a red shirt and visiting Anfield.
“The first time I stepped on an NBA [National Basketball Association] court I became a businessman,” James, 26, told the Wall Street Journal. “This is a great opportunity for me.”
Liverpool regard the partnership as key to expanding their brand. The chairman, Tom Werner, said: “There are very few athletes who can match his global reach, appeal and iconic status … We feel the business opportunities for both working and being identified together in emerging international markets will result in unforeseen opportunities that neither would have been able to realise alone.”
In a statement Fenway said it would “aggressively explore global business opportunities for LRMR and LeBron James, future business, marketing, endorsement and philanthropic endeavors all over the globe”.
LRMR’s chief executive, Maverick Carter, a high-school team-mate of James, said partnering with Fenway would open up international business opportunities for the athlete.
Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but Fenway is expected to earn a small commission on deals it does on James’s behalf. The 26-year-old is one of the richest sportsmen in the world, earning $15.8m (£9.7m) from the Miami Heat and an estimated $30m a year from endorsements with companies including McDonald’s, Nike, Bubbilicious and Coca-Cola.
A true rags to riches story, James was born in Akron, Ohio in 1984. His mother raised him on her own after his ex-convict father left them. Nicknamed “King James” while still in high school, James got his first Nike endorsement before he turned professional.
But James attracted some heat of his own last year after his controversial decision to quit the Cleveland Cavaliers. The move was announced in an hour-long TV show called “The Decision” and his former team were told minutes before the show was aired. Cleveland’s owner, Dan Gilbert, called James’ decision “selfish”, “heartless”, “callous” and a “cowardly betrayal”. The move was also criticised by NBA commissioner David Stern. “I think that LeBron is a really good guy and he’s going to be a great player and I don’t think that this particular production showcased him to the best of our abilities,” Stern said.