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Thursday, July 24
 
Nike still makes Kobe "welcome" on Web site

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Nutella is still "Kobe Bryant's favorite spread," but the maker of the hazelnut-flavored product is no longer touting his pitch on its corporate Web site.

Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers' star guard, earns between $11 million and $15 million a year endorsing various products from Nutella to soft drinks to fast food to athletic equipment and apparel. But since he was charged with sexual assault last Friday, his presence has been scaled back on many of the corporate Web sites of the products he pitches.

One of the exceptions has been Nike.

The shoe and apparel maker, which signed Bryant in late June to a five-year endorsement deal worth at least $40 million, continues to promote him on its Web site. "Welcome to the Nike family," reads a message after images of Bryant and LeBron James, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, flash across the screen.

It is not known if Bryant's situation will affect the launch of his Nike shoe. According to Nike's Web site, the shoe is scheduled to launch on February 7, the week before the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Nike officials did not return messages seeking comment.

Spalding, which pays Bryant to endorse its Infusion basketball, had an image of the Lakers guard on the front of its Web site on Wednesday. By Thursday, it was gone.

"We're refreshing the site," said Dan Touhey, Spalding's vice president of marketing. "We're not backing away from the fact that we are endorsed by Kobe. We are still taking a wait-and-see approach."

Bryant's name still comes up on the site's roster of endorsers.

Bryant has not appeared recently on Sprite's Web site, but the company stopped airing television commercials with Bryant earlier this month. An official with Coca-Cola, the parent company of Sprite, said its media plan had called to phase out commercials that included Bryant at the end of the basketball season.

Though Nutella removed Bryant's image and pitch phrase from its Web site, the company continues to offer its Bryant bobblehead promotion. Officials with Ferrero Co., which makes Nutella, did not return calls seeking comment.

Although officials with companies that Bryant has endorsement deals have maintained that their moves are unrelated to the felony charge he faces, sports marketers like David Carter, principal of The Sports Business Group, aren't surprised by their actions.

"Some of these seem like very tactical decisions," Carter said. "Corporations can't afford to put themselves in a position in which they've pulled back so much that they've done long-term damage to their relationship with Kobe if they want to continue when all this is done. But they also might want to take safety measures to passify letter-writing soccer moms."

McDonald's has not used his image on its site.

Prices for Bryant memorabilia are still listed on the site of Upper Deck, which also has him under contract. Autographed jerseys on the site are selling for $749.99 and $829.99.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com




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