Three weeks after launching a personal brand of Nike basketball sneakers, the Melo M3, Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony was suspended for 15 games yesterday for his part in Saturday night's brutal bench-clearing brawl at Madison Square Garden, which resulted in an unprecedented 10 players--both active squads--being ejected from the game.
It was the longest suspension of the season, and the sixth-longest in the sport's history, and it casts a pall over the Melo M3, the first individually recognized basketball player since eponymous icon Michael to have a signature shoe in Nike's elite Jordan line.
Anthony's suspension is very bad and possibly fatal for the Nuggets, who are now fighting for a playoff spot without the league's highest-scoring player. But what does it mean for Anthony as a brand endorser--he also plugs Gatorade and other products--and the Melo M3 as a product?
"It's certainly not good--the question is, how bad is it?" asks Jim Andrews, senior vice president at Chicago's IEG Sponsorship Report. "I think everybody gets a chance to make one mistake, and this may be his, but he's still very young and people want to know that this was just an isolated incident."
Because Anthony's character is still very much up for grabs, it could take some time for people to believe it was a one-time mistake.
"It's going to be tough for him to immediately bounce back, and the people who manage him have got to be in crisis management right now," says Rita Rodriguez, CEO of Enterprise IG US, a brand strategy and design firm that's part of WPP. "He's been groomed for quite a while as the next Michael Jordan, and that part of his brand promise has now faltered."
Rodriguez says Jordan and Nike have been very careful to cultivate the Jordan brand, and points out that the only other athlete to have a personalized brand in the line is the Yankees' superstar shortstop Derek Jeter.
"Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter are certainly one kind of athlete--their behavior is beyond reproach. [Anthony's] type of behavior is not part of that kind of brand expectation."
Sarah Galvin, a sports marketing consultant based in New York, suggests that Nike and Jordan may have a character clause in their agreement with Anthony, which could give the company pause. Calls to BDA Sports Management, which represents Anthony, were referred to Nike, which did not return calls by press time.
But for the game's demographic, it won't be hard to forgive, Galvin suggests.
"For the young adult demographic, as the level of bad behavior goes up, so does the level of tolerance and forgiveness," she says. "In fact, they're more tolerant of the bad behavior than whether the team wins or loses. If his absence hurts the team's chances to make the playoffs, that will hurt his brand more than anything."
But sneaker sales probably won't be hurt, everyone agrees.
"For as many people who won't buy the shoes because of this, there might be just as many who will because it gives him street cred," Andrews says.
"It's a setback, but I'm not sure there will be a detrimental effect," says Patrick Quinn, founder and principal of Chicago's Q Sports Marketing in Chicago. "It's not like this happened in a nightclub. It was the heat of the moment, he was defending his teammates. His name is blasted all over the newspapers. I doubt it's something [Nike] would want or endorse, but he's a media star, and he's in the spotlight right now. It would not surprise me if this helps shoe sales."