Oden makes move for spotlight

April 11, 2008
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odenespnAs a senior at Lawrence North High School, Greg Oden was the most televised high school player since LeBron James. And he hoped to be a small screen star after he became a celebrated No. 1 pick in last year’s National Basketball Association draft.

Sources close to Oden said the 7-foot center hoped to develop a broadcast career while his on-court star burned bright. But a knee injury, which has kept him off the court for his rookie season, has derailed that plan so far.

Oden’s handlers, eager to keep him in the public eye, inked a deal with ESPN that rolled out humorous TV and print ads showcasing the big man’s marketing appeal and versatility. That move, sports marketers said, was to maximize his value as a corporate pitchman as well as position him for a post-basketball broadcast career.

Oden may face long odds as marketers try to figure out his on-air value. Big men have not traditionally been the NBA’s brightest off-court stars. There are exceptions, of course, including the colorful Shaquille O’Neal. But those are big shoes to fill.

The big knock so far on Oden is that he’s quiet, stiff and dry. He tries to dispel those notions in the ESPN spots.

“I don’t think it’s the position a player plays, it’s how he presents himself,” said Nova Lanktree, executive vice president of marketing services for CSMG International, a Chicago-based firm that represents athletes in commercial deals. “Those ESPN commercial are catalytic. They’re a solid move for him.”

Lanktree is in a position to know what works. She works extensively with NBA stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

“Greg has to work on an appeal that transcends hard-core sports fans,” Lanktree said. “That’s what companies and marketers are looking for. Right now, we just don’t know enough about Greg Oden to know if he’ll be successful on-screen and in marketing. His handlers have to increase his visibility. That’s what will keep the cycle of his initial hype into the league going.”

Lanktree said Oden will be hurt by playing in Portland. “It’s a small, remote market,” she said. “And since it’s way out west, the media exposure there is not great.”

Before worrying about a TV or marketing career, Lanktree recommends Oden concentrate on basketball.

“He needs to make an impact on the court,” she said. “Then he can build a clear brand of who he is and what he stands for.”
  • Oden is articulate and can speak in complete sentences. Those qualities are few and far between in the NBA.
  • From what I've seen he seems to have a sense of humor and does not take himself too seriously. And I think he'll get better on camera. It will be interesting to see what his agent, Mike Conley Sr., can get done for him. Sponsorship and TV deals are a bit trickier to navigate than getting a rookie NBA deal done.
  • Interesting piece. However, I’d disagree with Anthony and Ms. Lanktree on two counts.

    First, Oden’s location in Portland will not hurt him. The relevant degree of exposure hinges more on an athlete having the NBA as a platform. I don’t think that Jermaine O’Neal, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, or Chris Paul (whose home courts are all in smaller markets than Portland) would complain about their levels of exposure (or endorsement deals).

    Second, I disagree with Ms. Lanktree’s assertion that Oden should make an impact on the court, then develop his brand. Particularly since we can’t be sure when it will be that he is back to playing condition, Oden needs to develop his brand well before his impact on the court is established as a professional athlete. This ensures that when he does reemerge onto the court, his brand is in place, and ready to propel and amplify his on-court success to stardom. Brands are about behavior. . .not impact. Whether he knew it or not, Oden’s brand development as an athlete began the first time he took to the basketball court. The key question is now, what is he doing to further develop his brand, and what’s his plan for positioning his brand to stand out among his competitors?

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