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  • lukejarman9

Michael Jordan and the rise of a 'Superbrand'

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

Like most, I am drawn to success and to learning the power of what can be achieved through hard work and dedication. Micheal Jordan was the embodiment of this spirit - he transcended not just the basketball court but also geographical regions to become a truly global phenomenon, at a time when I was personally starting to be influenced and engaged by sport.

Fast forward to the end of 2019 and Nike’s Jordan brand had its first billion dollar quarter - and that was before the airing of ESPN’s “The Last Dance.”

Over the past 15 years in the sports industry working on branding sporting events, I have seen first hand the reach of the Jordan brand. Across my time in the Middle East, South America and North America - everywhere I went the Jordan brand was ubiquitous. The reach and impact was apparent and never too far away.

Athlete endorsements and personal apparel lines are common, but rarely to anywhere near the level of the success and reach that Jordan has achieved. Nike co-founder Phil Knight called the success of Air Jordan I, "the perfect combination of quality product, marketing, and athlete endorsement." but despite all these factors success is still not guaranteed for an athlete’s brand. Many athletes over the years have tried and failed to make the leap from a star player to an impact brand. Few have succeeded; Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Usain Bolt are athletes that have managed to match their success on their individual fields of play with their brand’s commercial power. However, even in today’s connected world huge global stars like Ronaldo and Messi have struggled to have the same impact with their personal brands as they have in football. Even in Jordan’s sport of Basketball, break out global stars like LeBron James and Steph Curry have not yet created so called ‘super brands’ that have a fraction of the impact. There are many factors to this but it is partly due to the brands themselves being more aware of the possible negative element a star player could bring. The most high profile of which might be Tiger Woods and his troubles of the not too distant past. Micheal for his part was and is savvy on this aspect, keeping quiet on political and cultural matters - as Jordan once famously quipped - “Republicans buy sneakers, too!”

So what has enabled both Micheal Jordan and the Jumpman brands to captivate and reach such a wide audience and translate that to massive revenues? As outlined in Phil Knight’s quote - there was the perfect combination of elements (including timing, which he didn’t mention) but it was also helped by having tastemakers such as Spike Lee, Serena Williams and Barack Obama representing and amplifying the brand over the years. This helped to increase the cultural reach far beyond sports and introduced non-sports fans to the brand - in hip-hop, film, games or youth culture in general. Jordan also benefitted from endorsements over his career with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s - both global behemoths themselves who also saw the value in the Jordan brand.

From a global commercial perspective, basketball and Jordan’s popularity in China, Japan and Europe has helped bring in the revenue over the years in various ways, something the NBA has been keen to capitalise on. The massive popularity and historical love of the sport in these regions has seen the NBA hosting games around the world over the years - something that really took off in the 1990s during MJ’s peak sporting achievements, which is no coincidence.

The Jordan brand itself now has more variety and spans several sports: running, baseball, football, even golf, along with casual sneakers and clothes. This further allows Nike & Jordan to cross cultures - see the recent Paris St. Germain x Jumpman collaboration as a prime example. This has been followed with specific Jordan/Jumpman pop up shops and experiences that are far removed from the original Jordan shoes, but still embodies everything Jordan has become known for.

Despite sales waning slightly in the early to mid 2010s the brand has surged back in the last couple of years - it seems like Michael’s never give up attitude has been fused to the brand’s DNA, not surprising as Micheal has been so influential on the shaping of the brand over the years. The ‘Last Dance’ will only continue that rise and bring in more revenue.

In today’s world of mass information and accessibility will an athlete ever have the same impact as Jordan has globally? Personally, I doubt it.

As Jordan himself said of his celebrity impact in an 1998 New Yorker interview, “It could easily be a matter of timing, where society was looking for something positive,” he said. “It could easily be a sport that was gradually bursting out into global awareness at a time when I was at the top. And then there’s the connections that I’ve had with corporate America since I started with Coca-Cola and then went to Nike, which has gone totally global.”.....“I really, really can’t give you a sufficient answer.”

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