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"Like Him or Not, Bryant the Brand Is Scoring"

By Daniel Strickland on January 28, 2006.

I have a great deal of admiration for Kobe’s abilities, and despite Funk’s thoughts to the contrary, scoring 81 points in the NBA, against the Craptors or anyone else, with or without overtimes, is a remarkable feat. (Funk, have you forgotten that Kobe’s season low this season was also against the Craptors, scoring just 11 points in a 102-91 win in Toronto on Dec. 7?)

Then again, whether scoring 81 points was the right thing to do in a team game is up for discussion. A reporter asked Dirk Nowitzki if he could match or beat Kobe’s performance, and he said: “I don’t think that would be good from a team standpoint.”

Funk, do you think David Robinson was “saintly” when he scored 71 against the Clippers in 1994? Who knows, maybe he could have reached 81 or even 100 if he had played another quarter, but maybe not. We’ll never know.

One thing is for certain: only time will tell whether Kobe can restore his tarnished image as well as Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson were able to after their transgressions.

As The New York Times points out, “Kobe: the brand” is already recovering:

It was a stunning performance that might distance Bryant a little more from his arrest in 2003 on charges that he raped a desk clerk in a Colorado hotel; the case was dropped a year later when the woman refused to testify.

The accusation tainted his image, caused him to lose endorsements with McDonald’s, Spalding, Nutella and Coca-Cola, and put his Nike deal in a deep freeze. Come Feb. 11, though, his Nike shoe, the $130 Zoom Kobe I, will be released, with an advertising campaign that will focus on his conditioning and mental preparation.

A short-term glimpse at Bryant’s appeal, a few days after his scoring jag, looks promising. On nba.com, the highlight package of Kobe 81 (including a three-minute version of the game) has been downloaded more than one million times, and traffic to his page increased tenfold.

Also, sales of his jerseys at the NBA Store in Manhattan and on nba.com are outselling those of all other players, a leap from being fifth ranked since the season began.

With much more data to assess, SportsScan Info, which collects sales information from 13,000 retail stores nationwide, reported that two of Bryant’s jerseys moved into the top 10 in the N.B.A. a few weeks ago, based on data amassed through the close of business Sunday, before Kobe 81.

But will this mean that Bryant’s marketing appeal will return to anything like it was before the rape allegations? If it does, he will have to overcome the persistently negative perceptions about him.

Henry Schafer, the executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations, the Q Scores Company, said that among the general population, Bryant has an 11 Q rating, a measure of recognition and likeability, below the 15 norm for a sports star. His negative Q is a huge 55, lapping Barry Bonds’s very high 38.

Bryant’s Q scores date to this preseason, but Schafer said he doubted that his 81-point show would drop his negatives significantly when the new scores are tallied soon

“He’s not doing anything outside the game that would mitigate the negative reaction significantly,” he said. “You don’t see remorse. Those who do show it bounce back quickly.”

Jeff Chown, president of Davie-Brown Talent, an agency of the Marketing Arm, an entertainment and sports consulting company, said that Bryant was still too much of a gamble for the typical risk-averse corporation.

“From a brand perspective, Kobe’s no more compelling than before the game,” Chown said. “When a celebrity has a transgression, three things help: time, winning and rehabilitating his image. Time is helping; he’s winning, but it’s individually, and he’s done nothing to rehabilitate his image.

A more positive view was offered by Neil Schwartz, SportsScan’s marketing director. “The American sports fan has a really short memory,” he said, “and in Kobe’s case, as more time goes by, people will forget those negatives.”

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