The “Ceiling is the Roof” as the Jordan Brand Continues to Grow

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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…

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Battle of the Brands – Week 5 of the College Football Season

As a new feature for my blog/podcast, I’ve decided to start a series that focuses on the College Football field and the battle taking place between Nike, adidas and Under Armour to capture “national” viewers’ attention.

I’ve mentioned this battle many times through previous posts and podcasts, so here are my thoughts on how the battle is brewing so far this season.

This will begin a weekly series, where my rankings may change, I analyze the biggest wins of the week for each brand, and I take at look at the upcoming week’s match-ups that you should pay attention too!

 

My current rankings

  1. Nike – # of Partners in the AP Top 25 – 19
  2. adidas – # of Partners in the AP Top 25 – 4
  3. Under Armour – # of Partners in the AP Top 25 – 2

Nike

While they are clearly dominating in the sheer number of FBS Partners they have compared to Under Armour and adidas, especially in the Top 25, their streak of being the only apparel provide in the Playoff could end this season. But for now, they are your leaders for these reasons and more…

  • Their partners represent the current Top 6 in the AP Poll.
  • They have Houston, who is the Cinderella darling, that everyone hopes can break up the Power 5 party in this year’s College Football Playoff.
  • They have Tennessee (a client for only 1½ years by the way), the “feel-good” story of the SEC this season. Especially after their Hail Mary win last week in Athens.
  • Their other “top mid-major” Boise State is back in the Top 25 (#19).
  • Their partners continue to pull out big wins against their competitors’ partners when they need it the most!
    • i.e. See below.

adidas

I would have put adidas at #1 this week if Louisville was able to pull off the upset in Death Valley. Combine that with having four (4) of the Top 12 in the country and a Top 25 upset from one of their “Basketball” schools (Indiana over Michigan State), I was ready to put them over the hump this week…

But one yard stood in the way of that!

Could happen this week if the two big adidas vs. Nike matchups listed below fall in the “Three Stripes” favor.

Under Armour

What started off as a season of great promise for UA’s partners, with Playoff Dreams for one (Notre Dame) and solid seasons for others has not turned out as expected.

  • Notre Dame is a shell of what was expected of them in the Preseason.
  • Auburn is still turning its wheels trying to rise back into the Top Tier of the SEC.
  • Northwestern seems unable to build off of its 10-3 campaign last season with losses at home to Western Michigan and Illinois State, although their win last week at Iowa does stop the bleeding a little bit.
  • South Florida, South Carolina and Navy all could make a bowl, but neither have a defining win on the season.

They have only two teams in the current Top 25 (Utah and Wisconsin) and their best team still looks like a year away from truly contending for a conference championship (Wisconsin).

The seeds are planted for 2017, with the new additions of California and UCLA, but they will probably be stuck in third for the remainder of this season.

 

Biggest Brand Winners of Week 5

Winner – Tennessee (Nike)

  • Tennessee keeps its SEC (and National) Championship hopes alive with their Hail Mary in Athens, signifying that this could finally be the year for the Orange and White to return to SEC prominence! But Nike is also a big winner in that they seized Tennessee Athletics away from adidas in 2015 and they are seeing some immediate dividends in just their second athletics season together.

Winner – Clemson and Michigan (Nike)

  • The two biggest games on the National Stage that pitted Top 10 teams against each other, benefitted Nike the most. Not only did the Swoosh’s newest acquisition (Michigan) beat Under Armour’s newest acquisition (Wisconsin), but one the their brand champions (Clemson) held off the rising star brand of their other primary competitor (Louisville/adidas).

Winner – Washington Huskies (Nike)

  • Even though it had to go through one of Nike’s top partners (Washington is also a Nike school), Washington made an absolute statement that they are for real! Under Steve Sarkisian and Chris Peterson, the team seems so close to “breaking the glass ceiling”, but neither was unable to get more than eight (8) wins.
  • But this season seemed different, given the amount of preseason hype the Huskies had, but they had not been tested up to this point. This was their chance to prove that the hype was real, which they did and MORE! They throttled the powerhouse who has represented the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl for three of the last four years! This win has their purple-clad fans calling back to 2001, when the Huskies last won the Pac-12 and beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl.

 

Biggest Brand Match-ups for Week 6

Boston College vs. Clemson; Navy vs. Houston

  • Under Armour tries to upset Nike’s Playoff Contenders
  • These are two intriguing games because two of the top Playoff contenders are going on the road to play teams that have historically given people fits.
  • Chestnut Hill has always been a tough place to play at night and Boston College has been looking for a signature win for the last couple of years. Given that it is also their annual red bandana game, honoring 9/11 Hero Welles Crowther, that stadium will be very loud tomorrow night.
  • Navy is always a threat to pull of an upset, due to its efficient Triple Option offense. When it is on, it is hard to stop! With so much being on the line for Houston and the fact that the Cougars are the highest ranked team to visit Navy since 1984, the Midshipmen will be very fired up for this matchup.
  • Under Armour sees this as a way to eliminate two potential Playoff Contenders that are under the Nike banner. These could be big games for both these programs and UA moving forward this season.

Tennessee at Texas A&M

  • One of the two prominent Nike vs. adidas matchups this Saturday, it will determine who is the greatest threat to end Alabama’s control of the SEC.
  • Can Tenneessee keep up its miraculous run and complete their rise back to National Prominence with another road victory in the SEC? It would eliminate one of adidas’s four Playoff contenders and would cement to Nike that the Volunteers should become one of their top collegiate partners moving forward.
  • Or can Texas A&M establish themselves as adidas’s top collegiate brand champion? adidas’s commitment to debuting new products and designs with the Aggies has helped them become a force to be reckoned with since moving to the SEC. A victory, on such a national stage, would announce that they are ready to take down Nike’s prized jewel, Alabama in two weeks.

Florida State at Miami (FL)

  • This is the game that adidas has been waiting for since it become Miami’s apparel provider in 2015.
  • It is also a chance for the Hurricanes to finally return to National Prominence for the first time since 2002. Alumni and fans have been so frustrated that a program with the history that “The U” has, could ever fall to the mediocrity level that it has.
  • Forget that Florida State is a Nike brand, forget that they are still reeling from its thumping at Louisville and its loss last week to UNC… FSU is still Miami’s biggest rival! This is game that invokes so much history, passion and hatred that it cannot be ignored.
  • In addition, adidas and Miami will be debuting new uniforms that are an ode to the great Hurricane teams of the 80s. Head Coach Mark Richt is trying to return the Miami brand to a time where national championships were not a wishful dream, but an expected certainty.
  • On the national stage of Saturday Night Football (on ABC), debuting new jerseys from a National Championship era and facing your biggest rival… Miami (FL) will look to announce that they are back, a threat to the College Football Playoff, a brand reborn.
  • adidas hopes that Saturday night, Miami becomes “The U” again.