Bryant has everything to lose
Kobe Bryant sat before the media Friday and told reporters that his case was about much more than money, fame and endorsements.But for the people who make their livings from the sports endorsement industry, the case is, in part at least, about their industry’s ability to convince the product-buying public to link a product with the positive image of the athlete endorsing it.Bob Williams, a talent broker in Chicago who puts together athletes and advertisers, said Bryant’s downfall could ripple throughout the athletic endorsement industry.”If he were convicted, it could have a ripple effect with advertisers who are already hesitant in what is a slow market for athlete endorsements,” Williams, chief executive of Burns Sports & Celebrities Inc. in Evanston, Ill. told USA Today. “It could cause significant damage to the sports endorsement industry.”The Lakers have extended a $55 million contract extension to Bryant. He also signed a $45 million endorsement deal with Nike. His endorsement income is estimated to be $10 million to $12 million a year from products such as McDonald’s and Sprite.But in a tearful statement Friday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, with his wife, Vanessa, at his side holding his hand, Bryant said the felony charge that he sexually assaulted a 19-year-old Eagle woman goes far beyond money.”I have so much to live for. And by that I do not mean the contracts, or the money, or the fame. I mean my family. I will fight for them,” said Bryant. “I appreciate all those who have supported me. Thank you for believing in me. My family and I are going to need your support and prayers now more than ever.”In opinion polls among teen-agers, only teachers and parents ranked higher as their role models. If Bryant is convicted, that cynical segment of the consumer market, already the target of advertising pitches since they were in the cradle, could dismiss any athlete’s image as nothing more than just another product to be pushed.”This could really be a nightmare scenario,” said Williams.Sports marketing experts said the case will be a permanent blow to Bryant’s image and could cost him millions in lost endorsements.””The image was of a perfect role model, a superstar athlete who didn’t have a parking ticket, the all-American boy and now, well, that image is tarnished,” Williams said after charges were filed Friday.”As of today and until the trial, his image is going to take a beating.”Last fall, Williams’ firm commissioned a poll that listed Bryant as the third-best product endorser in sports, behind Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.The companies he endorses have, so far, taken a wait-and-see-attitude. Coca-Cola, the parent company of Sprite, has said only that it is monitoring the situation.While the Lakers are standing behind their five-time NBA All Star, their official line is wait-and-see as the wheels of the justice system finish turning.”Naturally, we’re disappointed with today’s announcement,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday after District Attorney Mark Hurlbert’s announcement that Bryant is charged with one count of felony sexual assault, a Class 3 felony with a wide range of sentences – anything from 20 years probation to life in prison if Bryant is convicted. “While there are many questions concerning this issue, we will wait for time and the judicial process to answer them.”The case has riveted the sports world for the past two weeks because it involves one of the NBA’s most magnetic stars. The case also raises questions about Bryant’s summer plans and whether he will be able to play with the U.S. Olympic qualifying team, which begins practice Aug. 10 in New York.The Lakers start practice in October for the 2003-04 season.Bryant married Vanessa Laine in April 2001. The two met on the set of a music video where Laine was working, and got engaged while she was still in high school. Vanessa gave birth to their first child, Natalia Diamante Bryant, in January.”These false allegations have hurt my family,” Bryant said in a statement Friday. “I will fight against these allegations with all my strength. My wife is the strongest person I know. She is willing to stand by me despite my mistake. That means everything to me. I have so much to live for. And by that I do not mean the contracts, or the money, or the fame. I mean my family. I will fight for them. I appreciate all those who have supported me. Thank you for believing in me. My family and I are going to need your support and prayers now more than ever.”Text of the charging document in the Kobe Bryant case:State of Colorado, County of Eagle against Kobe Bean Bryant Mark D. Hurlbert, District Attorney in and for the 5th Judicial District of the State of Colorado, in the name and by the authority of the People of the State of Colorado informs the Court:COUNT 1: That on or about the 30th day of June, 2003, in the said County of Eagle, State of Colorado, KOBE BEAN BRYANT unlawfully feloniously and knowingly inflicted sexual intrusion or sexual penetration on (name omitted) causing submission of the victim by means of sufficient consequence reasonably calculated to cause submission against victim’s will.Further the defendant caused submission of the victim through the actual application of physical force or physical violence, in violation of section 18-3-402 (1) (a), (4) (a), C.R.S; against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Colorado, in violation of C.R.S. 18-3-402 (1)(a), (4)(a), as amended, (F3). SEXUAL ASSAULT-OVERCOME VICTIM’S WILL. Penalty 4 years up to life in the Department of Corrections, 20 years up to life if Probation imposed pursuant to 18-1.3-1004 C.R.S. And possible fine of $3,000 to $750,000.Respectfully submitted this 18th day of July 2003.Mark D. Hurlbert, District Attorney.