As Los Angeles Lakers all-time leading scorer Kobe Bryant prepares to exit the NBA at the end of the season, his storied career, which spans 19 seasons, has been in full focus.
And rightfully so.
But as any professional athlete will tell you, their high-profile careers are often inextricably linked to the brands and causes they endorse. One of Bryant’s biggest partnerships has been with athletic footwear-and-apparel giant Nike Inc.
Will the star’s retirement hurt the behemoth? Analysts have been overwhelmingly united in their opinion: The impact on Nike should be minimal.
“There’s an interesting phenomenon in the sneaker business — sometimes businesses grow well beyond the active career of an athlete,” said Jeff Van Sinderen, an analyst with Los Angeles-based B. Riley & Co LLC. “Kobe is such a legend that this could be one of those times.”
The current basketball season has been a struggle for 37-year-old Bryant. In a poem published in The Player’s Tribune, the longtime Laker said his “body knows it’s time to say goodbye” to his beloved sport.
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While his NBA image felt the pressure of his now-faltering on-court abilities, insiders say his retirement announcement — further propelling him to icon status — could reinvigorate interest in his signature shoes.
“There should be increased demand now that he’s retiring,” said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst with The NPD Group. “But his retirement won’t have a big impact. … Kobe has never sold as many shoes in the U.S. as LeBron [James] or Kevin Durant. Comparatively, he’s more popular in China.”
Either way, even with the increase in competition from one of the year’s biggest success stories, Under Armour Inc., insiders say they are not too concerned about how Nike will fare after Kobe’s retirement.
“I think companies like Nike need to keep the athlete group at a high level of relevance— it needs to evolve to stay fresh,” Van Sinderen said. “Nike has been good at that, and I see no reason that will not continue. While Nike may be facing more competition for athletes from companies such as Under Armour, I suspect Nike will continue to have a really strong group of athletes with great shoes.”