I posted a little comment on Aug 10 highlighting the disconnect between Nike’s 90%+ footwear basketball shoe share in the US and the fact that only 4 of the top 10 NBA jersey’s sold in China were for Nike athletes. This, of course, raised the question as to whether Nike is overinvesting in its most mature market to maintain dominance while exposing itself to steeper competition in the most meaningful incremental growth driver for the next decade – China.
Well, that was before I saw China’s ‘Kobe-Mania.’ (They scream ‘Kobe-a’ when they see him, and then at times start crying or faint). The simple fact that Kobe got as much thunderous applause in the USA/China game as Yao Ming (Reebok) is pretty amazing. Out of the 11 players on the USA team, Kobe is the only one who the Chinese military has demanded he stay indoors unless absolutely necessary, and if outside he is escorted by several soldiers to control the crowds.
I don’t think Jordan was ever that big in China, which actually raises an interesting question. Kobe is an amazing player. It’s tough to dispute that. But my own view is that regardless of his level of play, Kobe will never win any popularity contests in the US due to his highly-publicized legal troubles several years back. Most of the 300million Chinese basketball fans (yes, that number is correct) don’t know about the legal mess and moral/ethical taint Kobe has in the US. If they know, they probably don’t care. If Nike plays its cards right, they could help turn Kobe into a franchise in China that is several times the size of what could ever be in the US.