With the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend in the books, we now have only 16 teams remaining to compete for the coveted national championship, starting this evening. Given the tournament’s enormous exposure, it not only represents a branding opportunity for the participating schools, but the apparel providers that outfit the programs on the court. Out of the 16 teams remaining, Nike once again dominates the market by outfitting 12 of those teams, with adidas and Under Armour both with 2 each.
However, within their 12-outfitted programs, two of the Nike schools on this list are underneath the company’s Jordan Brand, North Carolina (MJ’s alma mater) and Michigan (in their first season under the Jordan brand). The 2016 calendar year, along with the beginning of 2017, has been a year that has seen the Jordan brand expand beyond just the basketball court and seemingly looking to break away from being just another Nike in-brand.
Let’s start with the most recent and biggest move the brand has made in the last year… Moving into the sport of Football.
It began in July of 2015, when it was first announced that Michigan would not be renewing their apparel contract with adidas and were returning to the Nike brand that were partners with the Wolverines from 1994-2007. This was seen as a huge coup for Nike to take back such a prominent collegiate brand and excited the Wolverines’ fan base that were starting to question the adidas brand as the school’s “maize” began to become a much brighter yellow.
One month later, an announcement on Twitter rocked the Sports Business world as Michael Jordan himself announced that Michigan Football was going to feature the “Jumpman” logo once the Nike deal was in place on August 1, 2016. Before this announcement, the Jordan brand had not been appeared within any prominent sports setting other than a basketball court. Analysts began to ponder why Nike would make a move like this now with the Jordan brand? Could this be the beginning of an expanded use of the brand?
After the Michigan deal was announced, more and more Jordan brand deals began to come to fruition. Brazilian soccer/futbol star Neymar became the first player in the sport to partner with Jordan. In a sport that is dominated by two clothing brands and led by the sponsorships of Cristiano Ronaldo-Nike and Lionel Messi-adidas, this partnership could be considered the most notable non-Nike or non-adidas within the globally loved sport. The brand then celebrated the new partnership by releasing a special edition Brazil jersey, with the Jumpman logo emblazoned where the Nike swoosh would be.
We also saw a bit of Jordan in Major League Baseball this year, specifically in the playoffs and on the feet of the Cubs breakout star Javier Baez. The picture below show Baez and his Air Jordan 1 baseball shoes, in Game 1 of the NLDS, where his solo homerun helped the Cubs to a 1-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants. For the remainder of the postseason, his flamboyant style of play and shoe choice became a talking point among league followers and furthered the Jordan brand’s reach across a sport other than basketball.
But back to the aforementioned Michigan deal, as once the football season began, the Jordan-Michigan partnership began to reap its benefits. The Jumpman logo featured prominently on the uniforms, sideline polos and equipment and of course, head coach Jim Harbaugh. Derek Jeter, the former New York Yankees shortstop and Jordan brand partner, had his “RE2PECT” sloganed shirts given to Wolverine players. MJ himself was the honorary captain of the Wolverines in the season opener.
The partnership was bringing an incredible amount of notoriety and publicity to the program in just the first few weeks. It even spawned another Nike in-house brand to enter the football market, when Lebron James and his “King 23” brand designed football cleats for Ohio State University before its encounter with Michigan, adding another wrinkle into the already contentious rivalry.
Now, with the success of partnering with their first football program, Jordan appears to be slowly looking into expanding further. Earlier this month, the brand announced that they would be partnering with his alma mater’s football program, North Carolina, confirming that the brand is looking to build on their success with Michigan. MJ joined UNC personnel and staff to make the announcement during halftime of the Duke-North Carolina game on March 4th, the scene of his now infamous quote of “The Ceiling is the Roof”.
This is a move that indicates to the market that the Jordan brand is a rising star in the industry. The fact that Michael himself is involved with all of these announcements is a strong statement that he wants “Jumpman” to become as iconic as the Nike brand that launched it. His competitiveness and need to be the best shows me that he may intend on having his brand break out on its own, potentially adding a fourth competitor to the “Big Three” of Nike, adidas and Under Armour.
Now, with both Michigan and North Carolina in Sweet 16 matchups tonight and tomorrow, the Jordan brand will be front and center with two of the top stories in this year’s tournament. It is also a great excuse for CBS/TBS to talk about the brand’s expansion and growth this past year. Now just imagine if both of these schools make it to the Final Four…