Bryant helps an­nounce MLS, Bod­yArmor deal

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS THURSDAY - By Ju­lia Poe

LOS AN­GE­LES, Calif. — NBA leg­end Kobe Bryant will step off the side­lines as a soccer fan this sea­son, mak­ing his first foray into pro­fes­sional soccer in Amer­ica.

He’s help­ing tout a new part­ner­ship be­tween MLS and Bod­yArmor — a sports drink com­pany Bryant has in­vested in since 2014, ac­quir­ing a 10% stake that is now val­ued at $200 mil­lion.

A long-time fan of the game, Bryant first started track­ing the league when David Beck­ham joined the Galaxy in 2007.

“I was able to kind of gauge what the en­ergy was at the time; it was still rel­a­tively un­fa­mil­iar to the U.S. mar­ket,” Bryant said. “To be able to fast-for­ward now, you’re gonna see the en­ergy that’s kind of been put be­hind MLS. I wouldn’t say it’s sur­pris­ing. I’ve al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated the game, and I’m happy to see it catch on.”

Soccer was one of the first sports that Bryant played. He was in­tro­duced to soccer as a child when his fa­ther played basketball in Italy, and he grew up as an A.C. Mi­lan fan.

Bryant isn’t the first NBA star to be­come in­ter­ested in MLS and the sport of soccer as a whole. NBA play­ers such as Luka Don­cic travel to games in Amer­ica and abroad, and the two sports have seen in­creas­ing over­lap be­tween fan bases and play­ers alike.

To Bryant, this comes from a shared style of play in the two sports.

“It’s the con­nec­tiv­ity in the sport it­self,” Bryant said. “You have to use each other; you have to com­mu­ni­cate with each other ver­bally and through the ball. You have to read each other, open space for each other. There’s a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween basketball and soccer.”

Although Bryant said he had looked at dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties, he doesn’t plan on be­com­ing an MLS owner any time soon, stat­ing a lack of in­ter­est in owning any type of sports fran­chise.

In­stead, he prefers to uti­lize his pres­ence in sports to boost MLS from a mar­ket­ing per­spec­tive. As he con­tin­ues to ex­plore vis­ual sto­ry­telling — Bryant won an Academy Award for Best Short in 2018 for a film he wrote and di­rected — the for­mer NBA star plans to use his cre­ative skills to sup­port the league.

His busi­ness and cre­ative in­ter­ests led to his sup­port of Bod­yArmor’s part­ner­ship with MLS. The al­liance will in­clude ex­clu­sive branded bot­tles fans can get through so­cial me­dia con­tests. Bod­yArmor will also pro­vide equip­ment and sup­port to MLS academy pro­grams.

The sports drink com­pany will also ac­ti­vate team part­ner­ships with 19 clubs — Austin FC, Chicago Fire FC, Colorado Rapids, Colum­bus Crew SC, D.C. United, FC Cincin­nati, Hous­ton Dy­namo, In­ter Mi­ami FC, LAFC, Min­nesota United FC, Nashville SC, New York Red Bulls, New York City FC, Or­lando City SC, Philadelph­ia Union, Port­land Tim­bers, San Jose Earthquake­s, Seat­tle Sounders and Sport­ing Kansas City.

At the club and league level, Bryant hopes to use the col­lab­o­ra­tion as an op­por­tu­nity to grow the sport and bol­ster the MLS.

“Hope­fully what my in­volve­ment will do is help with some of the mar­ket­ing and sto­ry­telling of the game,” Bryant said. “The most im­por­tant thing, par­tic­u­larly in some of these newer mar­kets that are com­ing now, is the mar­ket­ing and the sto­ry­telling of the play­ers. Who they are, the beauty of the game, ed­u­cat­ing fans of what’s a beau­ti­ful play, things of that na­ture. With our part­ner­ship with Bod­yArmor we’re ab­so­lutely look­ing for­ward to do­ing those sto­ries and get­ting that word out there more.”

CHRIS CARL­SON/AP

For­mer Lak­ers star Kobe Bryant, a long-time soccer fan, is help­ing sup­port MLS’ new part­ner­ship with sports drink com­pany Bod­yArmor.

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