Kobe kept on the marketing bench

By Published on .

Kobe Bryant will have to make do with his newly signed seven-year, $136 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, at least for a while.

Though criminal sexual-assault charges against Mr. Bryant were dropped, sports-marketing experts agree that it will take years, if ever, for him to repair his image enough to become a marketable pitchman again.

"It's far too early for him, or any company, to contemplate getting back into that game again," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based Sportscorp Ltd. "It's going to take several years, it's going to take excellence on the field of play and it's going to take not a scintilla of controversy off the field."

current contracts

Mr. Bryant still has several current endorsement contracts, but none of the companies still associated with the National Basketball Association star have activated any those deals. Rob Pelinka, Mr. Bryant's agent with sports-management firm SFX, did not return phone calls.

"There will be some companies that will wash their hands of Kobe Bryant, and there will be other companies that will take this wait-and-see attitude with public opinion," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. "Still, that's going to take some time."

Nike in particular was expected to launch a signature shoe line for Mr. Bryant when it signed him to a five-year, $45 million contract last June. Days later, Mr. Bryant was arrested for the alleged sexual assault of a 19-year-old hotel worker in Eagle, Colo. The charges were dropped when the woman said she no longer wanted to participate in the case. The athletic-shoe company has not featured Mr. Bryant in any of its advertising.

contracts canned

A six-year deal with Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite brand ends in December 2005, but Coke dropped Mr. Bryant from Sprite last year in favor of NBA rookie LeBron James. (Mr. James is partnering with Coca-Cola's Powerade brand to create his own sports drink, Powerade Flava23, which will be available nationwide this month.) The beverage company has declined to comment on Mr. Bryant and is not expected to renew the contract.

Sports-equipment maker Spalding and trading-card company Upper Deck also have contracts with Mr. Bryant that are still current, but neither has done any advertising with the player. Upper Deck, however, was supplying Mr. Bryant with a private plane last year during the early portions of his court appearances, shuttling the superstar back and forth from Los Angeles to Colorado.

Fast-food giant McDonald's Corp. and Ferrero USA's Nutella chocolate spread dropped Mr. Bryant last year when their respective contracts ended.

Nike, which has declined to comment on Mr. Bryant, has slowly started to test the waters, however. As first reported in Ad Age, the company began discussions with Bryant's high school, Lower Merion (Pa.), to market his prep-school jersey and other apparel. The school was to receive 7% of net sales (AA, Aug. 30).

Those discussions have been temporarily shelved, however, as some parents and alumni of the school reacted angrily to the news.

"Nike is the most likely company to get Kobe Bryant back to being an endorser again," Mr. Ganis said. "They're also going to have to be very careful. It's a five-year deal and we've seen nothing so far in the first full year. Nike may, at some point, have to think about writing off the whole deal because it may take some time before the radioactivity leaves him."

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