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Kobe Reveals the Economic Power of Branding

Kobe_wave.jpgIf anyone out there still doubts the monetary value of a strong brand, look what happened on Wednesday, April 13, at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. Basketball legend-in-his-own-time Kobe Bryant played his last game after a stellar, 20-year career and, in the process, broke all kinds of records. And I’m not referring to his performance on the court, which was nothing short of miraculous. He took 50 shots and scored 60 points, the most ever for an NBA player playing his last game. He set some other kinds of basketball records too but let’s leave those for the sports pages. Today, we’re talking about the enormous revenue the Los Angeles Lakers pulled in on that one day.

Kobe (he only needs one name now) is an unusual brand in that he is held in enormous regard but he also has his detractors. Even his most avid fans acknowledge his shortcomings. His vaunted basketball skills are universally admired, he’s extremely telegenic, his once imperious personality has mellowed with age and he’s become a beloved citizen-ambassador of Los Angeles – a family man who loves his city, his team and his people. But he leaves behind a reputation as something of a ball hog (which didn’t matter much as long as he kept winning) and as someone who occasionally feuded with certain other hall-of-fame teammates. Most damaging of all is a 2003 sexual assault accusation that was “settled” out of court (so we’ll never really know).

That leaves a situation where the people who love Kobe really love him, in spite of the shadow that hangs over him. The people who hate him really, really hate him. But, apparently, most of us love him because the entire world, it seems, came out to say thanks and goodbye.

This whole season was unofficially dubbed Kobe’s Farewell Tour. At every away game, the host team held a brief ceremony for him and presented him with gifts and mementos. In many arenas, it seemed as if half the crowd was wearing Laker jerseys and chanting “Kobe! Kobe!” Not even the local die-hards seemed to mind. It all culminated, of course, in the last game of the year – Kobe’s last game ever – on his home court at STAPLES Center on Wednesday night.

I knew something extraordinary was afoot when I read, in the Los Angeles Times, about entire tour groups from China paying $10,000 per person for air fare, hotel and last-game tickets. But that was just the beginning.

ABC News reported that courtside seats went for up to $27,500 a pop. That’s for a seat that usually sells for around $1,500. The average ticket price for the average Laker game is $208. The average ticket for this game? $1,403. The cheapest ticket, seating you way up in the rafters, where you need a telescope to see the ball, was listed at $729.

But the real mind blower was the merchandise sales. According to ESPN, on this one night, STAPLES Center sold $1.2 million of Kobe merchandise, setting a single-day record for any arena in the world. The previous record was and even $1 million, set by the Led Zeppelin reunion in 2007.

kobe_hat.jpgIt came to about $61 in merch sales for every ticket holder in the building. The average merch sales receipt was for $230. They sold 60% of their Kobe hats for about $72 each. They had 16 super-deluxe hats, half of which retailed for more than $38,000, the other half for more than $24,000. They sold all but three.

They sold out of all pins, coins and jerseys. They sold out of special snakeskin jerseys, retailing for $424. They sold out of a special limited-edition jersey – only 248 made – that went for $824. One fan bought 20 of them himself. They sold all but three of 24 special, crystal-emblazoned leather jackets at $5,824 each.

If you expand the sale to the next day and include online sales, the total merch sales jumps to $2 million. And, when Kobe ended his post-game speech with the words, “Mamba Out”, it only took minutes to offer t-shirts with that phrase on his website, $25 each.

Still wondering about the value of a brand?

Oh yeah, that same night, the Golden State Warriors closed out their year with the best regular-season record in the history of NBA basketball – 73 wins and only 9 losses – an almost unbelievable achievement. But hardly anyone noticed.

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