Italian-based licensed merchandise company Panini has an extended program with the NBA that puts Kobe Bryant in the spotlight.
Said Sal LaRocca, EVP of Global Merchandising Group, NBA, "They have historically played a significant role for us. It primarily gives kids an opportunity to interact with the sport." He says collectable cards a has been a core part of the merchandising business for greater part of 20 years.
Mark Warsop, of Dallas-based CEO Panini America said Bryant will be spokesperson for Panini and that the anthology will be included in all of Panini cards throughout the year.
"You can't take away that tangible feeling of opening a packet -- you can't get that in the digital format," he said. "Kobe is a key component of that. When you open the packet and see Bryant's card that can't be replicated in any other format. You see kids playing on video games more and more often, but you see their imagination taking off in real collectible figures and cards."
He says Panini has released collectibles in over 40 markets worldwide. "There's no question that from global perspective Kobe is recognized globally. A lot of that has to do with his personality. He is one of our marquis guys but we have llong term associations with a lot of players."
Said Bryant, " it's been fun to be a part of it in bringing them to the U.S. market. I like being part of that: thinking out side the box and doing something new and different. It's great for the globalization of the brand. Panini is global. I doubt we will every catch soccer, but we want to make it a formidable challenge."