If you ever got a chance to see him play in the early days as a Chicago Bull, you were usually treated to an inspiring athletic event. As stars of all realms, he went from Michael Jordan to Jordan, the one-word moniker used by so many. I’m sure nobody remembers, or cared, what sneaker Jordan wore in college at Chapel Hill.
One wonders if people even knew in his early days with the Bulls what he was wearing on his feet. The world of athletic shoes has gone from feet to phenomenon for those lucky enough to have won the genetic lottery of basketball physical and mental prowess.
Jordon hasn’t donned a uniform in two decades, but still is in the active conversation of who is the greatest of all time. Let’s talk stats a minute before business. LeBron James passed Jordan in March on the career scoring list and has nine NBA Finals trips. Kobe Bryant ranks ahead of both players for scoring and had five NBA titles before retiring. Most would agree that on the court these three are in everyone’s top five greatest players of all time. However, when it comes to sneakers, Jordan has no rival.
From a financial perspective both Jordan and Nike are killing it. Wholesale revenue at Nike’s Jordan Brand subsidiary hit $3.14 billion in the fiscal year ending May 2019, up 10% from 2018. Jordan’s annual take is an estimated $130 million, four times more than that of James, the No. 2 earner, with $32 million. By the way, the Jordan subsidiary accounts for roughly 10% of Nike’s total revenues. Do you think Jordon is underpaid?
In actuality, Jordan makes more in sneaker income than every other NBA player combined. Eat your Wheaties kids. It’s all about branding, and Jordan does it as well as anyone. “Jordan is being extended as more of a lifestyle brand,” says Cowen & Co. analyst John Kernan. “There is enormous potential. It can be much bigger than a $3 billion brand.” Jordan has led the way in branding his market and has created the space for others as well. The brand has moved beyond just basketball through partnerships with French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and college football blue blood Michigan.
The newest genetic lottery winner of the slam dunk is Duke’s Zion Williamson, who was the top overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Nike paid the price for Zion (he’s on a first name basis already and he’s only 19) when the Nike sneaker he was wearing in a game at Duke blew-up and caused a slight injury. As such, his multi-year deal is worth an estimated $13 million annually, including reachable incentives, and ranks fifth among current NBA players. A line of his own is all but certain in the near future.
Unlike football and even baseball, basketball and soccer are the only true global team sports, which is why brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are willing to pay such massive sums to the stars in each sport. The players can be used in marketing campaigns around the world. You have to wonder how Nike and the others will fare as trade wars with China escalate. According to the NBA, China has 300 million people that play basketball, and it accounted for 40% of Nike’s sales growth last year.
As the pie chart suggests, Nike leads the world in sneaker sales and athletic branding. With such a lucrative world-market, you can be sure to see more Puma and Adidas athletic branding in the year to come.