Kobe Bryant Guards His Team in Battle Vs. Pepsi and Coca-Cola

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Kobe Bryant is no stranger to competition, or making millions of dollars from selling a brand.

However, this time around, the National Basketball Association superstar point guard of the Los Angeles Lakers has jumped into a different arena: sports drinks.

Bryant's new equity ownership in BodyArmor puts him up against a couple of drinks giants guarding their own stake in the sports drinks arena: Pepsico (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO).

The partnership BodyArmor and Kobe Bryant announced last week gives Bryant an ownership stake of more than 10%, or the third-largest shareholder in the company. Bryant will also sit on the board of directors and is putting his "skin in the game" with an estimated $6 million investment.

For now Bryant won't be used in advertisements but he is making his presence felt in other ways. Since the announcement he has been busy sharing people's tweets on Twitter that involve BodyArmor. This helps spread the brand, considering Bryant has 4.5 million followers on Twitter.

BodyArmor has had success signing athletes to endorsement deals through contracts and also small equity stakes. With Kobe Bryant in the mix, BodyArmor may see a surge in endorsement deals, especially in the NBA thanks to No. 24's many friends.

He can even say the drink helped him recover from a torn Achilles tendon in quick form.

Kobe Bryant aside, Body Armor has endorsement deals with an assortment of sports stars including Mike Trout, Kevin Love, James Harden, Andrew Luck, Buster Posey, Lesean McCoy and Rob Gronkowski. Several of them, such as Luck and Posey, are also partial owners.

Bryant's involvement in sports drinks shows their growing importance to soft-drinks behemoths Coke and Pepsi. As sales of carbonated beverages flatten, particularly in North America, sports drinks and water have grown in importance.



In fiscal 2013, Pepsi's America Beverages division saw sales of $21.2 billion. Coca-Cola's North American beverage business unit saw sales of $21.6 billion in the last fiscal year.

With Gatorade, founded in 1965, Pepsi maintains a market share of 74% in the sports drink market. Coke's Powerade, founded in 1988 had high-single-digit growth in both volume and market share in the fourth quarter. Coke maintains a market share of 24%.

Between Coke and Pepsi, you'd think there's not much market share left for competitors.

But BodyArmor, launched in 2011, is still fighting hard. Drinks come in fruit punch, tropical punch, strawberry banana, mixed berry, orange mango and grape. Considered sports drinks by some and natural drinks by others, they contain coconut water, 2.5 times the electrolytes of competing sports drinks and are low in sodium.

Co-founder Mike Repole was behind Vitaminwater, a company that was sold to Coca-Cola in 2007 for $4.1 billion. BodyArmor's other co-founder Lance Collins sold the Fuze and Nos brands to Coca-Cola for $250 million.

Coke continues to see minimal sales growth annually and looks like more of a safe blue-chip play for its dividend and safety. Pepsi offers upside from its snack and food business and activist involvement. BodyArmour isn't a big enough reason to stay away from these big names yet, but is definitely worth watching.

BodyArmor had revenue of $10 million in the last 12 months, but is seeing sales double at a yearly pace. New distribution deals could bring this company to a $100 brand within five years. Founder Repole also sees BodyArmor becoming the next billion dollar sports drink brand.

The drinks from BodyArmor are available in 20 states, mainly found in convenience stores and colleges. The company says it will be in all 50 states in two years. BodyArmor can also be ordered online through Amazon.com's (AMZN).

BodyArmor also signed a distribution with drinks also-ran Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) that could be a trial run if Dr Pepper wants to take the brand on nationally for distribution. Another distribution deal is with Haralambos Beverage Company. The company, which reaches Orange and Los Angeles counties, distributes over 70 beer and drink brands to more than 10,000 retail outlets. Kobe Bryant posted a picture from a presentation with the company.

Will Dr. Pepper make a run at BodyArmor as an acquisition target to gain entry in the sports drink market? Or will Coke, with its prior relationship with the founders of BodyArmor, make a move?

Neither is a slam-dunk. Stay tuned.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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