Where does Jordan Brand success leave Nike in basketball?

Ad Age did a brief case study on the Jordan Brand last week, revealing that it has eclipsed the sneaker sales of Reebok and addidas. That surprised me for a minute, but not when you look deeper at the roster of athletes it has assembled. Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul are arguably the next three most marketable players behind Lebron and Kobe, so add all of their sneaker sales with the line of Air Jordan’s and you can see why the sales numbers are where they are.

My question is what does Nike plan to do moving forward. Jordan Brand has limited distribution, premium pricing and positions itself as the Mercedes (or fill in the luxury brand) of the industry. One look at their website indicates what the brand strives to be – the lineup of athletes dressed in fine suits lounging in a room no sign of sneakers, basketballs, or uniforms. Jordan Brand also poached Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia, a few prominent football players, and boxer Roy Jones. Again, all top of the line public figures in their respective sports.

Will Nike take Jordan Brand to other sports and continue to carry it as the premium play it is now, or will extend vertically in basketball, expand distribution, and offer products at various price points? From there, what is the end game for brand Nike? If they allow Jordan Brand to expand within basketball, which I don’t feel is the strategy, does Nike shift its focus away from basketball all together. If it horizontally expands Jordan over to baseball, football, and beyond as the premium brand, does it start to target lower price points or will it compete directly with Jordan risking some cannibalization to house maximum market share under the same Beaverton, Oregon roof?

I don’t have any answers, but it’s a testament to the power of MJ on how fast this entity grew and the lineup of stars it immediately attracted. At a time when Under Armour is trying to enter the sneaker business, Nike continues to get stronger, and with Jordan Brand now successful on its own, brand Nike can shift its efforts to other sports and other products to cut into the strengths of Under Armour, Reebok, and addidas.

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NBA Proves Impact in China with Jersey Sales

It’s amazing to see the in-roads the NBA has made in China in the past generation. The league has a perennial All-Star from the world’s biggest country, is part of a deal with AEG to open basketball arena’s across the country, and operates an immensely successful business unit in NBA China. However, the list of top selling jersey’s in China provides concrete evidence of just how successful the NBA’s initiative is.

Yao Ming, one of the most well-known people in the entire country, ranks 10th. That’s right, nine other NBA players sold more jersey’s last year than Yao. Forget revenue, a big part of the NBA’s barometer for success is impact. The Top 10 list, thanks to Darren Rovell, indicates the Chinese are not just Yao fans, not just basketball fans, but NBA fans.

Could it be that everyone already has a Yao jersey after five seasons in the league, and not other Chinese player has made an impact. Possible, but unlikely. Take one look at the crowd reaction to Kobe Bryant, more fanatical than he sees in most NBA cities.

With popularity rising fast and furiously, is it possible that player’s are actually underexposed in China? Could agents and marketing representatives be leaving endorsement money on the table overseas? Big endorsement money. Instead of flirting with $50 million contracts to play in Europe, players could expand their brand to the far east to earn that extra money.

Obviously shoe companies, like Nike and addidas are already global. Look past that, each country has wireless carriers, car companies, the fast food and soda companies all have international exposure. Why not capitalize on the merchandise success and create that global brand that Lebron discussed when he mentioned the merits of playing overseas. Just maybe he doesn’t have to play overseas to reap the benefits.

Criticism of Nike Unjustified

Nike responded to public outcry about homophobic undertones in its recent ad campaign for Hyperdunk shoe, by pulling a series of ads posted around New York that show a player’s head between a dunker’s legs as he leaps over the player with the new Nike shoes. It’s the latest episode in an overly public correct world.

No matter if its gay rights, womens rights, or any other rights, I’m in favor of exercising them when appropriate, not in this matter. Wieden and Kennedy, the ad firm, and Nike, clearly had no intention of making light of homophobia in sports. The message was how these shoes can make your opponent look silly while you leap over them, or outrebound them, as other ads in the campaign showed. Attacking innocent parties is not the way to defend your rights and build credibility.

Typically, Nike would deserve criticism for pushing the envelope enough for societal questions to even come up, but they don’t deserve fault in this case. When you heard Imus’ comment about the Rutgers women’s basketball team last, his defamation was clear. When I saw this Nike ad, infringing on gay rights did not immediately come to mind, though I did cringe because it does look awkward.

Could and should Nike do a better job, yes. Even if undeserved, the publicity is never good. Pulling ads early never looks good. I commend them for acting quickly to defuse the situation, minimizing the public outcry. In the future, Nike, and any companies, are advised to avoid anything that is borderline controversial. But haven’t they already received enough warnings, yet it still keeps happening. Because it’s not blatant, perhaps gay rights organizations could have approached Nike in a more direct, less public manner to advise about the ad, and allow Nike to react before creating a media blitz.

By walking the line of political correctness, whether they planned to or not, Nike drew buzz for the new sneaker. By defusing the controversy before it snow balled, most of the public is now just left with the sneaker on their mind. WIll it translate to sales? Remains to be seen.