ESPN Heated or Chilled by LeBron ‘Decision’?

ESPN turned over its programming schedule, not to mention its ad sales department, to LeBron James on July 8. The move to air The Decision—an hour-long special at 9 p.m. during which James picked his future NBA team (the Miami Heat)—paid off in buzz and ratings (a 7.3 in the overnights, the largest non-NFL stat this year), but not necessarily financially.

After network executives promised that James’ announcement would come in the first 10–15 minutes of the show, it wasn’t until around 9:27 p.m. that he told interviewer Jim Gray that he was headed to the Heat, crushing countless fans’ hopes in Cleveland (where it got a 26.0 rating), New York (10.4 rating) and Chicago (10.7).

Yet the show’s sponsors, which included McDonald’s, Microsoft’s Bing, Vitaminwater and University of Phoenix, were surely thrilled with the prolonged exposure. ESPN didn’t necessarily cash in on the mega-hyped event, as all proceeds from the show were donated to Boys & Girls Clubs of America, per James’ marketing company, LRMR Marketing, which handled all ad sales for The Decision. According to reports, though, as part of the agreement to carry The Decision, ESPN was able to sell some local cable inventory.