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Published: Sunday, 7/27/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

Cedar Point has a lot riding on promise to LeBron James

Park has much to gain by renaming coaster for athlete, but at what cost?

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Bryan Edwards, public relations manager for Cedar Point, said there has been no determination as to what the amusement park — which has 17 roller coasters — would do to honor its offer to LeBron James. Bryan Edwards, public relations manager for Cedar Point, said there has been no determination as to what the amusement park — which has 17 roller coasters — would do to honor its offer to LeBron James.
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On July 9, Cedar Fair LLP’s Matt Ouimet succeeded in grabbing more than 15 minutes of fame by reaching out through social media outlet Twitter to NBA superstar LeBron James, who was deciding which team would become his new employer.

“Hey @KingJames - come back to the @cavs and we’ll rename one of our coasters, “King James!” Ball in your court, sir. RT, #Ohio!” the amusement park chief executive officer tweeted to the two-time NBA champion and four-time league most valuable player.

Then, on July 11, James called Mr. Ouimet’s bluff by announcing he would sign a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with which he spent seven years before departing in 2010 to join the Miami Heat.

To his credit, Mr. Ouimet said the same day that the company’s Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky would honor the original offer and would rename a coaster in honor of the Akron-born basketball legend.

What appeared to start out as a joke now may blossom into a marketing bonanza for Cedar Point — if all the parties involved can come to some kind of agreement.

For Cedar Point, the publicity and benefits would be enormous.

Bryan Edwards, public relations manager for Cedar Point, said there has been no determination as to what the amusement park — which has 17 roller coasters — would do to honor its offer to James.

“We haven’t really determined to what degree we would do it,” Mr. Edwards said. “It could be just a fun weekend renaming, or rename a coaster for the season, or perhaps at the end of the year, rename one permanently,” he said.

All three options are on the table, and the decision would be based on conversations between the three parties involved — Cedar Point, James, and the Cavaliers.

Mr. Edwards said there have been no formal talks between the parties, but informally Cedar Point officials have spoken briefly to both James’ management company, LRMR Marketing Management Co., and to Cavaliers management, and neither seemed opposed to the idea.

“We need to explore this and decide: Is there a potential partnership there or not? There’s a bunch of avenues we would have to go down,” Mr. Edwards said.

LRMR Marketing said it would not comment on the situation, and Cavaliers officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., an amusement park consulting firm in Cincinnati that specializes in park development, management, marketing, and other services, said getting LeBron James involved in with Cedar Point would be “marketing genius” if the Sandusky company can pull it off.

“First of all, it fits with their marketing target area, and at this stage they’ve already gotten a lot of press out of it,” Mr. Speigel said. “Costwise, if you renamed a coaster after LeBron there would be signage costs, there would be printing and collateral materials they would have to make for the park.

“But the marketing benefits and the media they would get out of this would far outweigh the costs,” Mr. Speigel added. “What they would receive would far outweigh their expenses.”

For James, the partnership could create “a great amount of good will,” Mr. Speigel said, “and LeBron would certainly come to the park to inaugurate it and promote it. It would be like an Ohio homecoming for him to have a [Cedar Point] roller coaster named after him.”

If a deal is drawn up correctly, it would have a tremendous retail opportunities. “Cedar Point could sell his jersey, his likeness — yes, there would be licensing fees, but everybody would make money,” Mr. Speigel said.

Mr. Speigel he couldn’t remember another instance in which an amusement park named a roller coaster after a living sports figure.

The Intimidator

However, there is a successful example of a deceased sports figure tied not to one but two roller coasters.

“In Charlotte, at [Cedar Fair’s] Carowinds park it’s been done before with their Intimidator roller coaster named after NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt,” said Todd Koesters, a professor of entertainment and sports marketing at the University of South Carolina.

“But that coaster was a brand new build. So I guess the question I would be asking is it whether this is just a P.R. stunt or truly a brand extension for Cedar Point and LeBron?” Mr. Koesters said.

The Intimidator, which opened in 2010, was designed around the legend of Earnhardt, who died in a crash near the end of the 2001 Daytona 500 race in Florida.

The coaster car is modeled after his black No. 3 Monte Carlo race car and the ride features a Winner’s Circle, Victory Lane, a replica of the No. 3 race car, and a wall of fame tribute to the driver.

Another Cedar Fair park — Kings Dominion, near Richmond, Va. — also has an Earnhardt-themed coaster named the Intimidator 305, because of its 305-foot high lift hill.

“If you look at what they do with the Intimidator, there’s a tremendous amount of licensing of merchandise that supports it. They sell photos, and there’s a gift shop that you walk into after the ride that has tons of Dale Earnhardt-Carowinds cross-promoted merchandise,” Mr. Koesters said.

“It’s a profitable licensing relationship.”

Value added

Mr. Koesters said Cedar Point doesn’t have to build a coaster to co-brand with LeBron James, but whatever it may do would have to add consumer value.

“If they treat it as a brand extension [of LeBron James] and explore the opportunities, Cedar Point stands to attract new customers, and the Cavs and James get to market themselves to new customers,” Mr. Koesters said.

Many coasters at the amusement park, like the Corkscrew, have been mentioned for rechristening, but officials might just build a new ride to honor LeBron James. Many coasters at the amusement park, like the Corkscrew, have been mentioned for rechristening, but officials might just build a new ride to honor LeBron James.
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However, for such a partnership to work, Cedar Point and James’ marketing company would have to choose the right roller coaster, one that would fit with the sports star’s persona, Mr. Koesters said.

Lee Alexakos, Cedar Fair’s vice president of marketing and advertising, said, “I would say nothing is off the table at this time.” Ms. Alexakos said the amusement park company has not ruled out building a new roller coaster to honor James.

“Everything is being reviewed at this time,” she said. “They are still working on a lot of different angles here, but we’re not at a point to say one way or another what we would do.”

Cedar Fair does “fully intend to honor” its coaster commitment. “But right now, we’re venturing into new territory,” Ms. Alexakos said. “One step at a time.”

Mr. Edwards said Cedar Point and Cavalier fans have made numerous suggestions, some humorous, some with a tinge of sarcasm, about which coaster should be renamed.

“Some suggested it be the Mean Streak, because he was mean to Ohio when he left,” Mr. Edwards said. “Others suggested the Wicked Twister, because Cavs fans were twisting in the wind while he made his decision to return.”

Still others suggested the park’s Mantis ride — a roller coaster in which riders stand — be renamed for James, “because he is standing up for Ohio again,” Mr. Edwards said.

Cedar Point officials are happy to listen “to any and all offers [LRMR] has, and we’ll compare what we can do and see if we can arrive at an agreement,” he said.

Double-edged sword

Toledoan Todd Mitchell, who played a year in the NBA and eight years of professional basketball overseas, said he could see how a business relationship benefits Cedar Point and the Cavaliers, but he’s unsure how much LeBron James would benefit by accepting Mr. Ouimet’s offer.

“I’m sure [Cedar Point] would like to capitalize on the fact that he’s back in the Ohio area,” Mr. Mitchell said. “But I think just to slap his name on a roller coaster that’s already there, well, I’m trying to think of one that would fit his style.”

Mr. Mitchell, who is now a manager with oncology drug firm Ferring Pharmaceuticals, said the publicity surely would bring notoriety to Cedar Point, “but I don’t know how much [James] needs the publicity.

“I’m sure LeBron would appreciate it, and I’m sure he would acknowledge the honor, but I can’t see a real benefit to him,” he said. “He’s in China right now and in front of 10,000 people on his trip. That’s where he’s working on his brand. His brand is not going to be built in Ohio.”

Mr. Mitchell said accepting Cedar Point’s offer would be a double-edged sword for James. “Cedar Point is saying basically that we’re going to use your naming rights to bolster our business and have cross-promotion between your employer and our business,” Mr. Mitchell said.

In that instance, James should rightly expect licensing fees for the use of his name and image, Mr. Mitchell said. “But then it doesn’t become a goodwill benefit anymore. It becomes just another business venture or a business merger.”

It also has the potential to be perceived negatively, Mr. Mitchell said.

Mr. Edwards said that Mr. Ouimet has instructed park officials that any deal “be done right” and that the company hopes that some kind of arrangement can be worked out with James, who visited the park numerous times as a teen growing up in Akron and later as a member of the Cavaliers.

“We would be proud to partner with the Cavs and LeBron’s people, if they so choose,” Mr. Edwards said. “What could be better than having the biggest and best athlete in the world partnering with the biggest and best amusement park in the world?”

But even if nothing happens, “It’s been a fun couple of weeks. That’s for sure,” he added.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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