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Kobe Bryant played a critical role in helping BodyArmor become the No. 2 sports drink brand in the U.S. The company and its founder, Mike Repole, want to ensure the legacy of the basketball great remains top of mind.
In a nod to Bryant’s uniform number, BodyArmor and Repole have donated a combined $24 million to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation (MMSF), which was established in 2020 after the tragic deaths of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. while traveling to a youth basketball tournament. It is the largest donation that the MMSF has received since its inception. The announcement comes two days after what would have been Gianna’s 16th birthday.
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“This $24 million is just the beginning,” Repole said in a phone interview. “I want this thing funded for the next 100 years. We are going to make it a billion-dollar foundation. This is my way of making sure that Kobe’s legacy and what he stood for will continue for a long, long time.”
The partnership will refurbish sports facilities and fund youth clinics around the U.S., which aligns with the foundation’s goals to fund sports programming for underserved athletes. Earlier this year, BodyArmor also created a new strawberry grape flavor called Mamba Forever. Repole calls it Bryant’s “business legacy,” on top of his five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, Oscar and other accomplishments.
“I don’t want people to ever forget that BodyArmor wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for Kobe Bryant,” Repole said. “I’m not sure we make it without Kobe. The credibility he gave us was incredible. I consider him a co-founder.”
Repole and Lance Collins launched BodyArmor in 2011 as a healthier sports drink alternative to PepsiCo’s Gatorade brand, which remains the category leader. Mike Trout, James Harden, Andrew Luck and Buster Posey were early endorsers and investors.
Bryant and Repole originally met in 2008 when Bryant did an endorsement deal with Vitaminwater, which Repole co-founded and had sold to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion the prior year. Bryant wanted to be part of Repole’s next beverage venture, but the entrepreneur said he kept turning down the hoops star because of the venture’s long odds, which had $10 million in sales, but was burning through more cash than that annually. “We’re going after Gatorade. This has a 1% chance of working,” Repole says he told Bryant, who then rattled off a list of reasons people doubted him during his career, and added, “One percent? Those are the best f—ing odds in my life.”
Three days later, Bryant invested $6 million for roughly 10% of the company in his first move after setting up Kobe Inc., as he prepared for his post-NBA career. Bryant was in his 18th season with the Los Angeles Lakers but became a critical part of BodyArmor’s success. He recruited athletes, like Harden, Richard Sherman and Naomi Osaka, went to trade shows, hosted dinners with bottlers, and attended sales meetings.
BodyArmor’s valuation soared following investments from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and Coca-Cola. It became the official partner of UFC, MLS and tennis’ U.S. Open and added pop stars Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Lopez to its endorsement roster. In November, Coca-Cola announced it spent $5.6 billion to buy the remaining shares of the company in the largest acquisition in the company’s history. It valued BodyArmor at $8 billion. Bryant’s estate received an estimated $400 million.
The brand’s retail sales were $1.4 billion last year, up 50%, and Coca-Cola announced last week its sports drinks revenue grew 22% during the first quarter of 2022, driven by “strong growth” of BodyArmor and Powerade.
“I’ve never worked harder than over the last two years, because my mentality went from with Kobe, to for Kobe,” Repole said.
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