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Can a city's savvy digital media strategy win a name brand basketball contract? That's what New York City is hoping for.

The city's celebrities — from Mario Batali to Jimmy Fallon — have recorded videos trying to entice the "world's best basketball player" to come to New York City. But can a social media campaign compete with whichever city offers LeBron the most millions?

Bartle Bogle Hegarty has an open contract with NYC to create advertising and marketing that makes people want to visit and live in the city. Pelle Sjönell, BBH's Executive Creative Director tells Econsultancy that the city is very open to new marketing ideas, since they believe "you can't put all the greatness of New York City into an ad."

BBH noticed that people were getting excited about LeBron James becoming a free agent in July and pitched the campaign to New York officials as a way to take advantage of the user generated sentiments that were already bubbling up online. Says Sjönell:

"Whether it's with the Kicks or the Nets, he's a global athlete and belongs in a global city."

For those who feel that wooing a basketball player is not the best use of city funds, Sjönell tells me that isn't really a concern.

"This is a no budget campaign. We don't have any money. What I felt is, I don't think we need one."

That's why you won't see any C'Mon LeBron ads on television (unless you happen to be sitting in the back of a cab). The city has a few open ad contracts out and is swapping in LeBron info in those spaces (Times Square billboards and TaxiTV, for example).

There are more than a few reasons LeBron could come to New York. We've got a great stadium ($$$), the city has a lot to offer celebrities ($$$), and players like Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh could conspire to come play in New York together ($$$). BBH is under no grand illusions that its strategy will change LeBron's contract decision. But the company thinks its a good way to shed the perception that New York isn't welcoming. Says Sjönell:

"This city, once it gets going against something, is a really powerful and awesome machine. If we actually end up getting LeBron, that's going to be his decision. But it's great for the city to dream."

Cities around the country are putting in their bids to win LeBron's affections as well. Together with Cleveland's best (and least) known celebrities, Break.com created a homespun take off of "We are the World" to encourage their basketball star to stay put. Send LeBron To Chicago is a pretty literal bid for that city.

BBH is allowing New Yorkers to make the campaign their own. The C'Mon LeBron site links to Facebook and Twitter. There's also a section for creating C'Mon LeBron media and tshirt designs.

So far, Mayor Bloomberg's video has over 70,000 views. The C'Mon LeBron Facebook page has almost 5,000 fans.  And according to  Sjönell, BBH has had lots of people call in and contact the website to join in on the effort. There have been offers made to give LeBron honorary deli sandwiches, a Today Show hosting and Mr. Softee shakes named after him. Mario Batali has offered to cook Lebron a bimonthly dinner party if he plays for New York.

The city is making the case for what such a player could do for our economy. According to The New York Times:

The city’s Economic Development Corporation recently declared that the economic impact of Mr. James’s arrival in New York could be as much as $57.8 million a year.

That said, BBH and Bloomberg don't have illusions that their social media campaign will be the motivator for LeBron's contract decision. Sjönell says:

"His decision will be based on other things than we have powers over. But to me, to be honest, it's not about his decision. It's not an effort to make him actually come here. It's an effort for all of us to get together around something that's great. In the end, either he missed the greatest city or he joined the greatest city."

Meghan Keane

Published 21 June, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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