NBA Stars Look to Grow Brand Internationally in Face of Lockout

By Stefen Lovelace

The NBA continues to be embroiled in a lockout, with no sign of an eminent resolution. The NFL’s free agency bonanza has dominated headlines, the college football season will be starting soon, and the MLB playoffs will be here in a couple of months.  All the while the NBA is failing to capitalize on an incredibly successful season from a viewership standpoint, and the longer the lockout goes on, the more it hurts its overall brand.

KobeBryantChina e1312986819196 NBA Stars Look to Grow Brand Internationally in Face of LockoutSome savvy players may actually use to the lockout to enhance their brands.  Some top stars have been mulling publicly about taking their talents overseas, which could lead to gaining exposure in untapped international markets.

Kobe Bryant is the most popular NBA player not named LeBron.  He has also lived overseas and is fluent in Italian and Spanish.  He can handle living abroad…he probably relishes the opportunity.

He’s also one of the most marketable players in the league, which is why it’s no surprise that he’s at least listening to offers to play in China if there’s a prolonged work stoppage.  Yahoo! Sports reported last week:

“Bryant, sources said, is still listening to offers to play overseas during the NBA’s lockout, and considers China a more likely option. He has exchanged proposals with Chinese teams, and one source said it’s unlikely Bryant would accept any deal that pays him less than $1.5 million per month. Bryant would be free to rejoin the Lakers as soon as the lockout ends.”

This comes after Turkey’s Besiktas signed All-star point guard Deron Williams to a deal last month that could be as high as $5 million for the season.  Williams has nowhere near the global star power as Kobe, but this move has given him much more attention that he’s typically used to getting. On Tuesday, Kevin Durant’s agent said he was in negotiations to play for the Turkish team too.

YaoMingChina e1312987209437 NBA Stars Look to Grow Brand Internationally in Face of LockoutChina has an incredible basketball following that was only further enhanced the last decade by the success of Yao Ming.  The country would certainly welcome high-profile NBA talent. Last week it was reported that a Chinese club offered Dwayne Wade a deal (he denied the reports). Recent NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki is apparently getting looks by the Chinese Zhejiang Lions (at Kobe’s same $1.5 million a month price tag).

And it’s not just the players that see the marketing and branding potential of a jump oversees.  Companies don’t want to see their players sit idle, and are looking to leverage the lockout into new opportunities around their sponsored athlete. From SLAMOnline.com:

“The famous sports marketing executive — Sonny Vaccaro signed Michael Jordan to his first shoe deal — tells the Chris Vernon Show that Nike and other apparel companies will pay their biggest clients to play in China (and other countries) during the NBA lockout: “Sonny Vaccaro says he thinks Kobe Bryant will go to play in China, and Nike will pay him to do it … Sonny tells us on the show that he thinks guys w/ the endorsement (like LeBron, Rose, Howard, etc) will pay them to play overseas.”

If Nike did start paying and encouraging its athletes to play abroad it could be a game-changer.  A few big-name deflections could even help in negotiation between the NBA and player’s association.

The NBA Lockout is terrible for most of the players and the fans, and in the short-term catastrophic for the league.  The elite players though still have lucrative opportunity to gain attention and exposure they wouldn’t otherwise be afforded.

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