Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Time for Kobe to call his lawyers

First it was America’s Funniest Video’s, that was followed by Girls Gone Wild and now it’s “The Kobe Video”. In an ever increasing world where everyone is protecting what’s theirs, a group of unknown people claim to have a video of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant where the Lakers star offers what is allegedly a profanity laced tirade slamming the Lakers. In the five second teaser available on their website thekobevideo.com an African American male wearing a red T Shirt and sunglasses offers Kobe uttering five words “man this fuck_d up position. The motivations of whomever creating this website became clear Tuesday evening when the website posted their marketing sales/plans:

“You've heard about it. Now it is time for you to see the Kobe Video with your own eyes. This infamous video shows Kobe Bryant in the parking lot of a shopping center near his home in Newport Beach, California speaking very candidly about Andrew Bynum and the direction of the Los Angeles Lakers' organization.

“A private party has offered us $100,000 for the rights to this video. Unfortunately, this individual does not want this video to go public. We believe the public not only has a right to see this video but also has a desire to see this video. So we have decided make the video available to the public for ONLY $1.99. We believe that at this exceptionally low price everyone who wants to see the video will be able to see the video.

“Once we reach the designated threshold for orders (50,000 orders to recoup the $100,000 private party offer) each purchaser will receive his or her very own copy of the Kobe Bryant Video. Unfortunately, living in a YouTube world prevents us from sending out the video to our customers prior to meeting the order threshold. If the threshold is not met, all orders will be immediately refunded and we will sell the video to the private party. It is up to the public to decide whether or not they want to see what Kobe Bryant really thinks about Andrew Bynum and the position the Lakers organization is in.

“Many people have claimed that there is no video and that this is all a hoax. The teaser clip is to show you that this video is for real and of exceptional quality. We are currently working to setup a secure online shopping cart and once this is completed the video will be available for purchase. We anticipate the shopping cart will be ready by the end of this week. Last but not least, we would like to thank all of you for being patient with us throughout this entire process.

“Sincerely,

“thekobevideo.com team”

Several thoughts come to mind – the only ones that might be printable on SBN’s part is Chutzpah. According to Wikipedia -- Chutzpah is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. But the story only begins with the audacity of trying to generate $100,000 in sales before “letting the truth be told”.


Kobe always in the news has been in the news over the past few days largely due to a silly web related mistake (not linked in anyway to the alleged video). Over the weekend The Los Angeles Times, ESPN and The New York Times all reported that Sunday Kobe had once again requested the Lakers to trade him. The comments were originally made on May 30 and were written about three weeks ago. The comments were reposted on Bryant’s KB24.com on Sunday, June 17. No one seems certain why or how the comments were reposted, but the reposting was removed from Kobe’s site by Tuesday.


In essence the comments Kobe made three weeks ago were treated as if they were being made for the first time, even though they were reported on three weeks ago. Mistakes happen everyday in journalism; this was one the big boys made. The mistake was corrected, duly noted by everyone involved – time to move forward. Then the news regarding the Kobe video broke.

First reported by The Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Rich Hammond Monday, whoever is behind the alleged video made one issue abundantly clear – whoever had this video was determined to generate $100,000 before the video sees the light of day. The entire video allegedly runs 15 minutes. AOL Sports blog “Fanhouse” Brett Edwards Monday interviewed someone named Ron who according to the report “is representing the Kobe Video Guys (they like to be called the KVG) in an effort to get it sold to the highest bidder.”

One issue Ron made clear – Kobe likely had no idea he was being videotaped. “I don't think he noticed he was being recorded. My friend had a digital camera and was taking pictures, then just switched to video mode, so no, I don't think he knew he was being filmed.”

Kobe Bryant has worked hard at cleaning up his image following time standing still for Bryant on July 3, 2003 –when Bryant, then 24, was arrested and charged with Felony Sexual Assault in Eagle Creek, Colorado (The alleged assault took place on June 30, Bryant was charged five days later). Why would Kobe Bryant speak so openly and so brazenly about the Lakers? Yes it came several days after Kobe had suggested he wanted to be traded, but did Rob have any idea why Kobe was being so open with people he had never met before?

“I don't know if they had talked to him before, I'll have to verify that. I don't think so, because my friend was so excited to be speaking to Kobe that he said his heart was racing, and it was like he couldn't believe it. Kobe frequents the same places in Newport Beach, there's really only one grocery store right in that area, and I know people that see him there all the time. He's usually very cordial in speaking with fans that approach him, but this time he was even more open.”

According to a report in Wednesday’s New York Times: “The men who shot the video have been peddling it to news media outlets for the last two weeks.” Again according to their own website the owners of the alleged video claim they had been offered $100,000 for the video – although they fail to mention the name of the person who made the six figure offer for the alleged video.
So why then would anyone turn down $100,000 (yet according to a New York Times report “peddle” their video for the last two weeks and instead decide if they generate at least $100,000 in sales they’ll then release the video to the public?

“We feel the public has a right to see this; it's rare to see an athlete speak this candidly about what he really thinks. The person that made the offer was just a huge Laker fan and was basically trying to give us hush money. Even if the highest bidder wanted to destroy the tape, we would accept less money from someone who would make the video public. We feel it's important to get it out there.” Ron told The Fanhouse’s Brett Edwards.

“Right now we're leaning towards selling it through the website for $1.99. These would be pre-orders, and we would only release the videos once we reach a certain number of sales. That way we could make sure it's not all over YouTube right away. We're still open to other offers, but right now that's how we're thinking of doing it.”

Their website clearly states: “Once we reach the designated threshold for orders (50,000 orders to recoup the $100,000 private party offer) each purchaser will receive his or her very own copy of the Kobe Bryant Video.” What happens to the alleged video if the total isn’t reached? Their website suggests: “If the threshold is not met, all orders will be immediately refunded and we will sell the video to the private party.” However it offers no timeline for any of this to take place. If these gentlemen are taken at their word, they aren’t putting any deadline on reaching their ambitious total of 50,000 sales.

The 5 second preview is available on their website, but again all you can see from the clip is an African-American gentleman wearing a red T Shirt and sunglasses. Is it Kobe Bryant or is it someone else? Eric Pincus of HOOPSWORLD.com made the following claims: “I have seen the video. Bryant is wearing a red shirt and sunglasses. Apparently the videographer and Bryant frequent the same establishment and are on general speaking terms.

“While the conversation was purported to have lasted approximately 15 minutes, the video is brief. It was taken with a digital camera and leaves no doubt that it is in fact Bryant.

“Having covered the Los Angeles Lakers for some time now, there is no question that it is Bryant on the video.

“While an audio clip can be doctored, based on my experience interviewing Bryant numerous times . . . I am confident it is his voice.” To date the only person to authenticate the alleged video is Pincus. One interesting note in Ron’s interview with Fanhouse he believes the group doesn’t know Kobe Bryant while Pincus suggests Kobe and at least one of the four men know each other.

SportsBusinessNews.com attempted to contract the group Tuesday evening in preparing this report. SBN asked four questions:

- Did Kobe or whoever appears in this alleged video sign a waver giving you permission to use their image and to sell and market that image?
- Have you been contacted by Mr. Bryant or his attorneys
- Have you been contacted by Nike or any of the companies Mr. Bryant endorses
- Have you been officially contacted by anyone from the Los Angeles Lakers organization?

Within 45 minutes SBN’s email was answered by someone named “John Doe” The answer: “use their image? Kobe Bryant is in the STREET! anyone can take a picture or record him? you're funny.”

And here is where our questions remain. If the Kobe Video Guys (they like to be called the KVG) decided to simply release the video on YouTube or TMZ.com there isn’t much that Kobe could do. Ask Mel Gibson, Paris Hilton or any of the long list of celebrities who have embarrassingly appeared on these sites. But here’s the difference, these sites have made video’s available free of charge to anyone interested; they haven’t tried to generate $100,000.

There are some real issues for Kobe Bryant to consider if and when this alleged video is released. In the last few years Bryant has worked hard at repairing his image. A month before the ‘events’ of June 30, 2003, Bryant signed a $45 million shoe contract with Nike. At the time Kobe Bryant was also the face of McDonald’s and Sprite’s corporate NBA partnerships.

Four years ago everyone with an opinion tried to paint the picture as to why they believed Kobe Bryant’s life of respect turned to ridicule overnight.

''Adolescence is really about identity representation,'' said Dr. Ronald Kamm, president of the International Society for Sport Psychiatry, based in Oakhurst, N.J. ''It really gets affected by this level of fame, the way a Jennifer Capriati or LeBron James might get affected.''

''We think because athletes are so physically gifted, we tend to think they are gifted in other ways, morally and intellectually,'' Kamm said. ''I'm not saying some don't live up to that standard, but we should emulate their work ethic and the fact that they practice so hard and perform under the most intense pressure. In that way, they are realistic role models. But to think that they are moral or character role models, they may be and they may not.''

''There's a lot of talk now about Kobe Bryant and how that is going to affect the brands with which he's associated. Once someone is strongly associated with a product or service,'' Kathy Feakins, senior partner at Lippincott Mercer, a design and brand strategy agency in New York told The New York Times, “what happens to their image can have an impact on the product.''

Nutella, the maker of a chocolate-hazelnut topping ended their agreement with Kobe soon after he was accused of sexual assault. His other sponsors stayed out of sight at least as far as their association with Kobe Bryant was concerned.

Nike took the first big step last summer, featuring Kobe in a two page Sports Illustrated advertising spread. The return of Bryant features him staring at a long list of insults that have been leveled at him over the past two years: "Selfish … Uncoachable … Prima Donna … Not a leader … Not a Team Player."

"I think some people were surprised at the speed of Kobe's comeback. But, the way the way the situation was resolved, I don't think anyone doubted that he'd resume being a marketable personality," Doug Drotman, head of the New York-based sports public relations firm Drotman Communications told the Associated Press.

"What you will see is that Kobe will be marketed a little differently. That's inevitable. Because a change in public perception is something that can't be denied or avoided."

Last summer Kobe signed a multi-year agreement with Sony, one worth millions of dollars to Kobe Bryant.

"Kobe Bryant has distinguished himself as one of the truly elite players in the NBA and we are thrilled to have him represent NBA '07 as our newest cover athlete," said Sharon Shapiro, senior director, promotions and sports product marketing, Sony Computer Entertainment America. "With his explosive game and storied rise to the top of the NBA's ranks, Bryant is a great ambassador for NBA '07 and its unique gameplay-driven story mode 'The Life: Vol. 2.'"

Bryant has four years left on the seven-year, $136.4 million contract he signed July 15, 2004. The Lakers owe Kobe just a shade north of $88 million and Bryant is scheduled to be paid more than $17 million by the Lakers during the upcoming NBA season.

Kobe hasn’t commented on the alleged video, or its implications, but does this alleged video do anything whatsoever to enhance Kobe Bryant’s image with his sponsors, the Lakers or the NBA?

And what about the Lakers trading Bryant, does that make any sense? If the Lakers are all about “Showtime” the days of Kareem, Magic, Shaq and Kobe are long gone. The Lakers may be committed to winning, but more than anything else Kobe Bryant represents the remaining marquee athlete on the Lakers roster. In a city filled with celebrities time and time again Kobe Bryant is the reason many A-List celebrities make the Lakers a big ticket.

Monday Lakers Jerry Buss sent a letter to Lakers season ticket holders making it clear – the Lakers want to win:

"You want to win. We want to win," Buss said in the letter. "We are on the same page. During my 28 years of ownership the Lakers have been to the playoffs 26 times. Lakers teams under my ownership have gone to the finals 12 times and won eight championships. Merely qualifying for the playoffs is certainly an accomplishment; however, we all want more. That said, and we know this from experience, making it to the [NBA] finals is never easy, and winning it all is even harder.

"Our goal has been, and remains to be, to build the Lakers into a team that can regularly compete for championships. I believe that we have always shown a willingness to do what needs to be done and spend what needs to be spent to deliver you championship caliber basketball. We remain committed to that philosophy."

As does Kobe Bryant, who again allegedly appears in a video featuring an African-American male wearing a red T Shirt and sunglasses allegedly offering disparaging comments about the Los Angeles Lakers. Yours if you’d like to purchase the video for only $1.99 at thekobevideo.com (assuming there are at least 50,000 like minded people who demand the truth be set free)!

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Thekobevideo.com, AOL’s Fanhouse, HOOPSWORLD.com, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times

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