Kobe Bryant's presence will be on the competing teams benches this year for March Madness, as the sports drink brand he is a significant investor in will be courtside throughout the tournament.
BodyArmor announced Wednesday that it will take over for Powerade for all the NCAA championships, but it's March Madness that's the true prize because it's the most widely seen as a result of getting the rights to the branding on the coolers, cups and water bottles.
"College athletes playing at the highest level will now be drinking BodyArmor, some of them for the first time," BodyArmor founder and chairman Mike Repole said. "We have an NCAA deal now and expect to, in the coming years, be the official sports drink of the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NFL."
Those rights are currently held by Gatorade, the current market leader in the category since inventing the space in 1967. Repole says that his goal is to be the No. 1 sports drink in America, toppling Gatorade by 2025.
The sponsorship deal, which covers all NCAA championships, still belongs to Coca-Cola, which first signed in 2002 and re-signed in 2013. With Coke's recent move in August to become the second-largest shareholder of BodyArmor, which valued the company at $2 billion and Bryant's share at roughly $200 million, it's in Coke's best interest to help further promote the brand over its legacy sports drink, Powerade.
BodyArmor will sublicense the sports drink part of the sponsorship from Coca-Cola, which will maintain its presence at other events.
Powerade is more than three times the size of BodyArmor in sales, but BodyArmor's growth is skyrocketing -- 2018 will yield $400 million at retail in the United States and the sixth straight year of growth of more than 100 percent.
Endorsers and shareholders in the BodyArmor brand include Houston Rockets guard James Harden, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, golfer Dustin Johnson, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and former women's college basketball greats who are currently in the WNBA, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi.