Friday, August 19, 2011

China Won't Rent Kobe

Just when it seemed Kobe Bryant was on the verge of signing a contract with a Chinese team, the Lakers superstar's path to the Chinese Basketball Association is suddenly obstructed. Yes, Shanxi Zhongyu owner Wang Xing Jiang said that he and Bryant had agreed to terms; and even if that wasn't totally true, Kobe is conducting due diligence and weighing various options. Bryant still has a choice to make.

Well Bryant's decision is now much easier now that the governing body of Chinese basketball decided that they don't want to be NBA players' "other woman." The CBA will not offer any "out" clauses in contracts, which means anyone who is currently under contract with an NBA team will not be signed. And if a free agent wants to give it a go in the CBA, he'll have to leave the NBA behind for the duration of the contract regardless of whether or not the lockout ends.

The CBA wants to go steady.

But the biggest loser here isn't Bryant, who was fabulously rich when he woke up this morning and remained fabulously rich after the CBA made its decision. The loser isn't even the CBA, which is essentially denying fans the opportunity to see players like Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki or Dwyane Wade while denying itself the revenue from increased exposure.

No, the losers here are Nike, Adidas and Reebok—companies working to prolong the sport's popularity in China after the retirement of Rockets center and national here Yao Ming. The world's largest population was going to get a first-hand look at American basketball beyond international competition. The Olympics can only offer two weeks of this kind of exposure every four years, but an entire season of Bryant in China could have turned into an athletic "Beatlemania.

The European teams are trying to round up as many Americans while they can in hopes of gaining an edge in their respective leagues, and possibly pocketing a few more bucks along the way. And owners in Europe are as diverse as the continent itself. Some have sterling financial reputations while other teams make it as difficult as possible to actually get paid. But no matter how they treat their players, European teams always want to be profitable and win.

The CBA, on the other hand, is government run, which can kind of kill the competitive spirit. It's easy for the league to issue a mandate without the complaints of 30 billionaire owners who would otherwise be scrambling to rent NBA superstars for any amount of time. But the CBA doesn't want to subject itself or its fans to the inevitable rejection that will take place when the lockout ends.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these companies from a sponsorship point of view, but when two of the industries' biggest cash cows (the NBA and the NFL) take turns locking out players and alienating fans, it's hard not to feel the pinch.

The silver lining for America's sneaker manufacturers is that college basketball promises to be as popular as ever. Much of the country's top talent decided to return to school rather than wait through a work stoppage. A bump in NCAA Tournament exposure coupled with a labor resolution in the NBA could mean big things for the Nike and Adidas in 2012 (Reebok's main squeeze is the NFL, so they're not as effected as its rivals), but until then, both sneaker titans will struggle for advertising fodder.

Now would be a good time for India to start a basketball league with little-to-no contractual restrictions.

I got this on, real interesting stuff.

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