Media Releases

Pro athletes bolster star status through team selection, teammates and career evolution: Study

January 17, 2012

Toron­to / Van­cou­ver — Bas­ket­ball fans in Cleve­land may dis­agree, but two-time NBA Most Valu­able Play­er Lebron James’ deci­sion to play with a high­er-pro­file Mia­mi Heat team and all-star team­mates shows sound mar­ket­ing and career-man­age­ment acu­men, accord­ing to new­ly-pub­lished busi­ness school research focused on the evo­lu­tion and impor­tance of star sta­tus for today’s pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes. In order to max­i­mize their earn­ings and endorse­ments, today’s celebri­ty ath­letes  — from James to David Beck­ham to Pey­ton Man­ning — need to be mind­ful of the evo­lu­tion of their star sta­tus.

So what makes a star shine even brighter in the world of pro sports? It’s a com­bi­na­tion of not only per­son­al per­for­mances and team records, but also includes the mar­kets that ath­letes play in and the star cal­i­bre of the ath­letes they com­pete with.

The study, “Inves­ti­gat­ing the evo­lu­tion of star sta­tus in pro­fes­sion­al team sports,” describes the rise and fall of cel­e­brat­ed ath­letes using data from the Nation­al Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion (NBA) from 1987 to 2008. Pub­lished in the Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Research in Mar­ket­ing, it was authored by pro­fes­sors Yupin Yang of the Beed­ie School of Busi­ness at Simon Fras­er Uni­ver­si­ty in Van­cou­ver and Mengze Shi from the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. To mea­sure star sta­tus, they mea­sured the num­ber and share of votes received by pro bas­ket­ball play­ers for the annu­al NBA all-star game.

It turns out that the careers of star ath­letes have a nat­ur­al life cycle. In the ear­ly years, indi­vid­ual per­for­mance is more impor­tant – but as time pass­es, win­ning a team cham­pi­onship becomes more imper­a­tive than per­son­al sta­tis­tics or acco­lades.

The results of the research, which arguably vin­di­cate Lebron James for man­ag­ing his career so delib­er­ate­ly, show that stars should play for a win­ning team – which not only helps an ath­lete rise up to being a star, but also extends a star ath­lete’s play­ing career. Also in James’ favour, Profs. Yang and Shi main­tain that star team­mates can help each oth­er. An athlete’s pop­u­lar­i­ty is strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the pop­u­lar­i­ty of team­mates, and explains some block­buster deals in recent years that have brought stars togeth­er to form star teams.

There is risk asso­ci­at­ed with this kind of career move­ment, as the researchers point out: Stars who move to star-laden teams could be eclipsed by more pop­u­lar star team­mates and even­tu­al­ly lose star sta­tus. Depend­ing on his team’s per­for­mances in the com­ing years, this could apply to James’ team­mate Chris Bosh, who was already a star in his own right when he left the Toron­to Rap­tors to join the star-stud­ded Mia­mi Heat.

The researchers’ results can be use­ful to man­agers of pro­fes­sion­al sports teams in man­ag­ing their star ath­letes. Accord­ing to the researchers, “if a team intends to devel­op a new star, the team should build up the player’s indi­vid­ual per­for­mance sta­tis­tics by pro­vid­ing him with more sup­port and play­ing time.”

From the per­spec­tive of sports fran­chise man­agers, teams may lever­age their assets such as a large fan base, cur­rent star play­ers and a win­ning record in attract­ing or retain­ing a star play­er.

Final­ly, their results have impli­ca­tions for com­pa­nies such as Adi­das and Nike, who employ star ath­letes as endorsers of their brands. “By know­ing the evo­lu­tion pat­terns of ath­letes and the impacts of sur­round­ing fac­tors, cor­po­rate brands can make bet­ter informed deci­sions regard­ing which ath­lete to sign and what endorse­ment con­tracts to offer.”

Sur­pris­ing­ly, despite the preva­lence of star ath­letes and the enor­mous eco­nom­ic val­ue of these celebri­ty brands in the mar­ket­place, such mar­ket­ing-focused empir­i­cal research on star ath­letes to date has been scarce.
For the lat­est think­ing on busi­ness, man­age­ment and eco­nom­ics from the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, vis­it
The Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is redesign­ing busi­ness edu­ca­tion for the 21st cen­tu­ry with a cur­ricu­lum based on Inte­gra­tive Think­ing. Locat­ed in the world’s most diverse city, the Rot­man School fos­ters a new way to think that enables the design of cre­ative busi­ness solu­tions.  The School is cur­rent­ly rais­ing $200 mil­lion to ensure Cana­da has the world-class busi­ness school it deserves. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it
For more infor­ma­tion:
Ken McGuf­fin
Man­ag­er, Media Rela­tions
Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Voice 416.946.3818

Derek Mosca­to
Direc­tor, Mar­ket­ing and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Beed­ie School of Busi­ness
Simon Fras­er Uni­ver­si­ty
Voice 778.782.5038