Kobe Bryant is capitalizing on his massive brand recognition and a gigantic e-commerce economy in China by launching an online store last month.
The store is the first outlet for Kobe Bryant-licensed products in the Chinese market, including lifestyle and electronic items through the Taobao and WeChat platforms. The store on Taobao is the “Kobe Official Enterprise Store,” while on WeChat it’s “Kobe Bryant 24.”
Bryant is the most-followed global athlete in China, which necessitates the direct-to-consumer opportunity for his fans, said Andrew Collins, CEO of Mailman Group, the agency running the store.
“His fans are spread across the country with a large majority across the southern parts of China,” Collins told Front Office Sports by email. “Almost all of them will never have the opportunity to see Kobe live, and they long to celebrate his 20-year NBA legacy. The branded e-commerce store was a great way to offer a line of merchandise to his fans and offer products at a more reasonable price point and more variety of products endorsed by himself.”
Products available through the store include trolley suitcases, mugs, phone cases, sports bracelets, sunglasses, backpacks and pendants. Collins believes the Kobe brand has come to represent “success” and “hard work” among his Chinese fans, and is particularly attractive to the nation’s middle class.
“All parents aspire for their children to develop a great work ethic, and they long for success,” he said. “Kobe captures that very well. His on-the-court success and cutthroat attitude captured the hearts of many.”
In a video to Chinese consumers announcing the store, Bryant said, “I hope you continue to be motivated by the ‘Mamba Mentality’ when using these products, whether at home, work or at play. Thank you for visiting the store, and I hope you like the collection we’ve put together.”
The online store play by Bryant is a wise one in China, the largest and fastest’growing online retail market in the world. A 2017 article from consulting firm McKinsey & Company pegged the market’s worth at approximately $830 billion. The article also found 67 percent of Chinese consumers shop on mobile devices.
“And Chinese consumers aren’t just buying Chinese products from Chinese websites,” the article reads. “Cross-border e-commerce is experiencing explosive growth, powered by Chinese consumers’ desire for lower prices and higher-quality products.”
Mailman Group’s other clients include the NFL, NHL, UFC, Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo. Collins said the company’s mission is to help athletes, teams and leagues to build their brand story in China by leveraging social media and digital platforms to create opportunities for partnerships, content, commerce and tours. In Bryant’s case, Collins believes that work is all but complete and current ventures are more about deepening connections to his already established fanbase. Possible avenues include live streaming interviews, branded partnerships, appearances and short video engagements with fans.
“All this activity adds to the overarching brand theme for Kobe in China,” Collins said. “He maintains engagement with his fans and his commitment to China hasn’t wavered post-NBA career.
“As he now expands his career into publishing and entertainment with his book and TV projects, there is an ever-present brand narrative that is always evolving.”
With more than 1.3 billion people in China, Kobe Bryant has a long runway to capitalize on with his brand. There’s plenty of room for the rest of the American sports industry to try and catch up, too.