For the University of North Carolina, teaming up with Michael Jordan and Nike’s Jordan Brand is one of the more savvy business moves the school has made in recent memory. In linking with the university’s most recognized alumnus — also a billionaire and icon in American footwear — UNC is taking a no-risk gamble.
According to The Motley Fool, Jordan Brand earned $2.8 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2016. The $2.8 billion was a year-over-year increase of 18 percent in terms of revenue and 21 percent on an international, currency-neutral basis.
Jordan Brand doubled the approximately $1.4 billion that Nike Basketball earned in 2016, with its stable of marquee superstars including LeBron James. Forbes reported last March that Nike intends to push its Jordan Brand revenues to $4.5 billion by 2020.
UNC is currently eight years into a 10-year deal signed with Nike in 2009 for approximately $37.7 million. UNC is joining Michigan as the second school around the country to team up with Jordan Brand. Michigan signed a $173.8 million deal with Nike last year that is the fourth-most lucrative in history. The top three deals are Nike’s $250 million contracts with Ohio State and Texas, and Under Armour’s 15-year, $280 million deal with UCLA.
Jordan Brand and Nike will recoup their investment in UNC many times over by creating walking, breathing billboards on the football field. The ubiquitous “Jumpman” logo will be on everyone’s jerseys and apparel, and it will thus be seen by everyone watching on television.
UNC’s present and future football recruits weren’t even born when Jordan won his last NBA title in 1998 with the Chicago Bulls, so it’s debatable that UNC football will benefit in recruiting from the Jordan Brand arrangement. In that regard, UNC probably should have made an arrangement like this much sooner.
At the same time, Michael Jordan’s legend has grown to mythical proportions over the last two decades — as they tend to do for sporting heroes.
Modern-day teenagers see Jordan’s athletic exploits as American sports lore, compared to the shared, remembered experiences of older citizens who watched Jordan personally. The connection might not be quite the same, but the impact remains significant. It’s especially the case with Jordan and UNC, where the connection remains vivid and omnipresent.
In an uncertain age in intercollegiate athletics, with skyrocketing expenses and concerns with the television revenue model, it makes sense to seek out smart and legal revenue streams.
For UNC, solidifying its connection with the university’s greatest athletic ambassador will improve the school’s national visibility. That it will also substantially improve the athletic department’s bottom line is a major plus.