One company endorsed by maligned Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will not be renewing his contract, but company officials say the decision was made before Bryant was charged with sexual assault in July.
Ferrero U.S.A. signed a two-year contract with Bryant to endorse its hazelnut spread brand Nutella in January 2001. Although Ferrero signed Bryant to a one-year extension in January 2003, the company said in a statement released Monday that "marketing plans established earlier this year did not contemplate a contract renewal."
"In keeping with this decision, and considering the recent developments, Kobe's image on Nutella labels and promotional material is being phased out," the statement said.
Although a promotion for a Kobe bobblehead doll was still on Nutella's Web site as of Monday morning, the company did take the phrase, "Kobe Bryant's favorite spread" off the site in recent weeks.
So far, officials with other companies and brands that Bryant endorses, including Sprite, McDonald's, Nike and Spalding, have maintained that their contracts with Bryant are still valid. Nike's Web site still says that Bryant's first signature shoe is being released on Feb. 7, 2004. Nike recently signed a five-year deal with Bryant worth at least $40 million.
Most endorsement contracts include morality clauses that would allow the company to terminate an athlete if he or she causes damage to the brand through immoral acts or is convicted of a crime.
Kobe Bryant cottage industry Kobe Bryant T-shirts are popping up everywhere. FreeKobe.com has shipped at least 2,000 orders with various "Free Kobe" items since launching the Web site on July 7, site creator David Feingold said.
Two weeks ago, Gary Mitton, a real estate executive from Los Angeles, started selling T-shirts with Kobe's name and number with "Colorado Prison League" on the front.
"People don't want to be caught wearing a Kobe jersey, so they'd rather have something like this that is more topical," Mitton said. "People who wear our shirts obviously have a different opinion than those wearing the Free Kobe shirts."
Other phrases available on shirts via the Internet include: "Kobe or Not Kobe: That is the Question," "Kobe is Innocent," and "Kobe was framed."
Feingold said he will have a representative handing out 150 T-shirts at Bryant's arraignment on Wednesday.
As a Coca-Cola shareholder, you should be hoping that Sprite tries to re-up with Kobe for long term and cheap. His market value may be down for now, but that won't last forever. If Sprite can try to come off as 'standing by their man' they may be able to capitalize on some small short-term damage and set themselves up for a big future gain through endorsement savings.