Why a retired Kobe may not score with marketers

Kobe Bryant's next chapter
Kobe Bryant's next chapter
Kobe gear sales spike 260% after retirement announcement: CEO
Kobe gear sales spike 260% after retirement announcement: CEO
Kobe Bryant: NBA star, business man
Kobe Bryant: NBA star, business man

While Kobe Bryant's retirement announcement was huge news around the world, some marketing experts believe that it doesn't necessarily mean he'll be in demand during retirement.

"It's to be determined where he's going to be as an ambassador for marketing as well as an on-air talent," said Kevin Collins, Magna Global's senior vice president of sports investment. "I don't believe his likability is on par with fellow retired NBA players like Shaq."

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors during Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals on June 9, 2015, in Cleveland.
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According to data from Nielsen, 77 percent of Americans can identify the Los Angeles Lakers superstar. On average, Americans can identify about 24 percent of athletes. However, when it comes to likability, only 24 percent of Americans find Bryant "agreeable."

Compare that to basketball legend Michael Jordan. Even though he retired in 1991, 88 percent of Americans still recognize him, and 72 percent of Americans like him. When it comes to recently retired baseball legend Derek Jeter, 73 percent of Americans know him, and 58 percent of Americans find him likable.

That's not to say that Bryant is a brand pariah. He's worked with Nike, which had great success marketing the basketball star in China. He's also worked with companies like McDonald's, Coca-Cola's Sprite and Sony, and signed a deal with Alibaba this summer. Forbes estimates his sponsorship earnings at $350 million throughout the course of his career.

A spokesperson for Bryant did not return a call for comment.

During a time when marketers are trying to reach Gen Z and millennials, Bryant also doesn't resonate as well with those groups. Nielsen found that his largest demographic of fans are 55 and older. Only one-third of his fans are under 35.

One marketer pointed out another brand image issue: While Bryant is well-spoken, he was once accused of rape (he was not convicted). Other up-and-coming NBA players like Steph Curry may not be as famous but are showing a stronger affinity with the public, and combined with the fact that Bryant hasn't been playing well for the last few seasons, brands are more likely to take the risk with newcomers.

Still, Bryant's retirement announcement was enough to raise ticket prices for his last game more than 200 percent on StubHub. However, his pull wasn't as big as Jeter: Tickets for the Yankee star's last game 500 percent after his announcement. StubHub's Alison Salcedo said it may have to do more with the Lakers than Bryant's pull with fans.

"The biggest indicator of price and demand is the performance of the team, and the Lakers have been struggling, so overall, demand for Lakers has not been nearly as strong as it has been in years prior," she said via email.

Kobe Bryant
Lakers' Bryant to retire at end of season

However, even if his personal brand isn't as strong as his fellow athletes, Bryant should be fine. According to Forbes, he will have earned $680 million from his playing career and endorsements by the end of this season. His company, Kobe Inc.,has also made investments in Body Armor and The Players' Tribune, published by Jeter, making the transition of Bryant from player to business. Kobe Inc. did not respond to requests for comment.