Student Leads Campaign to
Keep LeBron in Cleveland
Austin Briggs is a man on a mission. He is spearheading a campaign to convince Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James to stay in Cleveland.
James, who declined to sign a contract extension with the Cavs last year, becomes a free agent on July 1. Briggs, a 23-year-old junior entrepreneurship major at Kent State University, wants to send James a message: It is important for the region and the state that he remains with the Cavaliers. Briggs and partner Brittany Neal, a Kent State sophomore, founded Pleasedontleave23.com to rally support for their cause.
“I believe that LeBron James is a great role model, phenomenal athlete and catalyst to the economy of Northeast Ohio,” said Briggs, a native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. “This campaign focuses on the fan's perspective. So far, we have heard the opinions of sports anchors, radio hosts, news reporters and analysts, but nobody has been listening to the fans. Our message is aimed directly at LeBron James.”
The campaign got its start as a project for the Entrepreneurship Experience class in the fall of last year at Kent State. In the class, students are tasked with starting and running a business for two semesters. The first semester of the class is dedicated to starting the business; the second semester is focused on growing it.
“Austin really hit the ground running,” said Craig Zamary, one of Briggs’ instructors in the entrepreneurship class. “I love his idea. This campaign is original and extremely creative; it’s different and it stands out. “
Briggs and Neal (a minority share holder in the business) received a start-up loan from the Kent State entrepreneurship program and also contributed their own funds. Briggs solicited corporate sponsors, developed a logo, established a Web site (www.pleasedontleave23.com) and is utilizing social media tools to build a community of support for his message.
“I think what Austin had done is absolutely incredible,” said Julie Messing, director of Kent State’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Business Innovation. “He is highly motivated, and incredibly creative and insightful. But what’s really important is that he knows how to execute.”
Briggs is also utilizing one of sports’ most ubiquitous promotional tools: the mascot. Dubbed “Gilbert” after Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, the campaign’s mascot is a large, red foam rendering of the campaign logo – the state of Ohio sporting a sad face. “Gilbert is sad because of the prospect of LeBron leaving the Cavs after this season,” Briggs said. The logo is featured on campaign T-shirts, which are for sale on the campaign Web site.
Public events play a significant role in Briggs’ plans to generate support for this effort. The campaign’s YouTube page (www.youtube.com/pleasedontleave23) chronicles these activities, often featuring Cavaliers fans and the Gilbert mascot. The next big event is slated for Saturday, Feb. 6, when the Cavaliers play the New York Knicks. Briggs and his helpers will distribute 15,000 Gilbert “masks” to fans on their way to the game at Quicken Loans Arena. Fans will be encouraged to hold up the masks at the start of each quarter.
The scheduling was no mistake. There has been rampant speculation in the national media that LeBron James will move to New York, as it might provide a better platform for his global ambitions.
While Briggs continues to look for additional corporate sponsors, he is also soliciting donations on the Web site. Donations will be used to give out campaign T-shirts to young LeBron James fans and students in Northeast Ohio. Ten percent of every donation will be contributed to the LeBron James Family Foundation.
This initiative isn’t Briggs’ first Cavs-related endeavor. Last spring, he garnered a great deal of local media attention for “Witness,” a hip-hop song and video he recorded under the moniker “A. Gully.” The video featured Briggs’ “Witness Mobile,” a 1987 Cutlass Supreme emblazoned with the Nike Witness logo, developed for James. It became a local viral sensation on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Inkfq-b4Dp0), garnering more than 38,000 views. “This campaign was a way to build on the momentum from that publicity,” Briggs said.
Briggs enthusiasm is tempered with a dose of reality, regarding his ability to affect James’ plans. “I want to do the most I can do to really influence his decision,” he said. “Of course, money is going to be a very important factor, but Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and his people will take care of that. But if we can mobilize the world to be more sympathetic to our cause, LeBron will have to pay attention to that.”
For now, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers won’t discuss the future, fearing it will be a distraction from their goal of winning an NBA Championship this season. In the meantime, Briggs is focused on spreading his message. “I have some more events planned for the spring, and I hope to get local and state politicians to help out,” he said. “I also intend to reach out to celebrities such as Drew Carey and Iron Chef Michael Symon,” Briggs added. He also would like to license the campaign logo so that major retailers can carry his T-shirts.
“Austin is a force to be reckoned with,” said Elizabeth Sinclair-Colando, assistant dean of Kent State’s College of Business Administration. “I am his biggest fan. He could be the next Bill Gates.”