Panini Signs Kobe Bryant to Basketball Card Deal

Panini gets set to roll out its first basketball card product next week and has hired one time soccer sticker collector Kobe Bryant to help spread the word.

Panini Prestige Kobe Bryant autographed card The Panini Group, the NBA’s new trading card partner, has signed four-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers as its official company spokesman and "global trading card ambassador".

Bryant’s exclusive multi-year agreement with Panini includes autographs, memorabilia, and a joint charitable component. Panini says it hopes to "re-energize the basketball collectibles market in the US and overseas". Getting Bryant, who speaks several languages and grew up collecting Panini’s soccer stickers, is a coup for the company. Bryant had been a spokesman and exclusive autograph partner with Upper Deck since early in his career. His final autographed cards on Upper Deck products will come this week with the release of Exquisite basketball.

“I am honored to join the Panini family,” Bryant said in a statement released by the NBA and Panini. “We look forward to building off the momentum generated from last season’s NBA Championship, and taking that energy to another level. I know from my own experience growing up, how fun collecting and trading these products can be. I really believe collecting these products has the power, through the unique emotions of sports, to unify and strengthen bonds within families and across social groups, no matter what age you are. Panini and I are passionate about developing this hobby in many new and exciting ways."

Panini’s inaugural first NBA trading card release, Panini Prestige Basketball, will launch next Wednesday and will feature the first authentic autographs from Bryant. He also will appear on Panini’s packaging for future NBA trading card releases and within advertising with future television and radio commercials planned.

“Kobe is going to be the face of Panini basketball and help to get kids excited about NBA trading cards,” said Panini Group Licensing Director Peter Warsop. “He will serve as the greatest of ambassadors for Panini basketball products around the world. We couldn’t be more proud to be associated with one of the most spectacular and transcendent athletes on the planet.”

The Panini Group was originally founded in Modena, Italy almost 50 years ago and its corporate headquarters remain there. The Bryant family moved to Italy when Bryant was six years old as his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, began playing professionally there. Bryant, who speaks fluent Italian, became a huge soccer fan and collected Panini stickers.

Panini still has an exclusive license with FIFA for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

“Signing Kobe shows the depth of commitment that Panini has toward offering the very best of basketball products, be it trading cards or stickers and albums,” Warsop said. “Kobe’s intense focus and championship drive personifies the traits that Panini has exhibited in becoming the leading publisher of collectibles around the world. He brings enormous excitement not only to the game of basketball, but to collecting as well.”

Last January, the NBA and Panini signed a deal to make the European company its exclusive partner for basketball cards beginning with the 2009-10 season. The Panini Group purchased Donruss in March and formed the new subsidiary, Panini America, Inc. Last week, Panini announced an exclusive marketing and advertising partnership with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Prestige boxes are already being sold on eBay.

Watch Bryant’s interview with CNBC business reporter Darren Rovell below: