KSU student campaigns to keep LeBron in Cleveland

Kelly Maile

Don’t leave, LeBron!

Austin Briggs, a junior entrepreneurship major at Kent State, founded the Web site Pleasedontleave23.com.

The contract between NBA superstar LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers is up at the end of the season, forcing LeBron to either re-sign a contract with the Cavs or to leave his hometown. Austin Briggs, a junior entrepreneurship major at Kent State, has founded a campaign to keep LeBron in Cleveland.

The campaign, Pleasedontleave23.com, started out as an idea for last fall’s Entrepreneurship Experience class. In the class, students start a business in the first semester and run and grow their business in the second.

“I chose to do Pleasedontleave23.com because I already have some insides with the Cavs and the local news from when I painted Witness on the side of my car last year,” Briggs said. “My Witness mobile made it into The Plain Dealer, and I basically wanted to carry over that momentum and do something that was related to LeBron.”

Everyone has an opinion on Briggs’ campaign, whether people think LeBron is staying in Cleveland or is going to sign a contract with New York at the end of the season.

“It is definitely a topic of interest, and I think it is good that it stirs up controversy and conversation,” Briggs said. “A lot of people really like that we didn’t just start a Web site that’s taking donations, but we are actually getting people hyped by doing our big promotions and putting our money and our sweat into it.”

Briggs’ instructors were also excited about the idea and encouraged him to make his campaign one of a kind.

“When Austin pitched me his unique campaign, I knew it was going to be big and successful just by the way he talked about it,” said Craig Zamary, Briggs’ instructor in the entrepreneurship class. “Austin is a motivated individual. I love seeing young entrepreneurs like Austin really go after their ideas and put them into action.”

Briggs received initial funding for his campaign from a team of investors at the university and contributed his own funds. He gained corporate sponsorship, created a logo — the state of Ohio wearing a sad face — and established a Web site.

“Austin is extremely bright, and when I see how successful his campaign is, I feel a great sense of pride and hope,” said Julie Messing, the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation. “He has a very good knack at sharing and communicating his ideas and getting people on board with him.”

Briggs wants to do what he can to help keep LeBron in Cleveland because he realizes what LeBron means to the economy of Northeast Ohio.

“LeBron creates jobs, he is a phenomenal athlete and he is an inspirational role model to the kids,” Briggs said. “He is going to have a huge impact here in Ohio if he stays in his hometown, bigger than the impact he would have in New York or in any other market he could go to.”

LeBron’s impact is evident in the way he has influenced Briggs’ own life. Briggs has been inspired and motivated to donate his time, money and even his car in efforts to keep LeBron in Ohio.

“I didn’t know exactly what to expect going into this campaign, but this is definitely what I hoped and aimed for,” Briggs said. “I wanted to get all this exposure and now we just have to keep doing bigger and bigger things to keep this campaign going.”

In the beginning of his campaign, Briggs went to Cavs games to pass out fliers and free T-shirts. He also posted footage on the campaigns YouTube page (www.youtube.com/pleasedontleave23) of adoring LeBron fans with the Please Don’t Leave 23 large, red foam mascot “Gilbert,” named after the Cavaliers’ owner, Dan Gilbert.

Briggs also filmed commercials that show a broken-down Cleveland without LeBron and people begging LeBron to stay.

“Some people may take offense to that, but what is important in the campaign is that it has to have some type of entertainment value outside of the state of Ohio,” Briggs said. “There are a lot of Web sites out here that are trying to keep LeBron in Cleveland, but nobody outside of Ohio cares about it.”

Briggs kicked off his campaign on Feb. 6, when the Cavaliers played the New York Knicks, by handing out 15,000 Gilbert masks for fans to hold up at the game.

“The free marketing and the media attention really pushed the campaign forward and we were able to capitalize on the exposure,” Briggs said. “We had got a lot of our sponsors from that big promotional event.”

Plevin and Gallucci law firm, Villa, a clothing store in tower city that sells Please Don’t Leave 23 T-shirts and Alien Ink sponsor Briggs’ campaign.

Currently for the campaign, Briggs is working with Alien Ink to turn his 1987 Cutlass Supreme into a revamped “Witness Mobile” that will say Please Don’t Leave 23 on the side of it.

“Fox is going to bring it out on their network to reveal the mobile,” Briggs said. “We are doing a whole bunch of work to it, so it won’t even look like the same car after we’re done. I expect it to be bigger than the Feb. 6 promotion.”

Briggs is also working to get more retail stores to carry his merchandise. For now, Kent State students and Cavs fans can go to the campus bookstore to purchase T-shirts or go to the campaigns Web site.

Briggs has a short period of time to make a difference and reach LeBron on an emotional level. If Briggs could talk to LeBron face-to-face, he would tell him that the fans in Ohio genuinely care about him.

“We have been watching LeBron since he was a freshman in high school, so we’re not people that just want to draw him here for entertainment and as soon as he starts missing three-point shots, we’re going to boo him,” Briggs said. “That’s not going to happen here because he has genuine support in Cleveland.”

Briggs hopes to have more donations for his campaign so he can do promotional events in the future to show LeBron what he means to the people of Ohio.

“I think that’s the fun part, knowing I am having an impact on people, the Cavs and LeBron,” Briggs said. “It’s good to be a part of history and to do something that hasn’t been done before and hopefully people will remember.”

Contact Business Administration reporter Kelly Maile

at [email protected].