The Business Of Michael Jordan Is Booming

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff
9/22/2011

More than 50 million kids have been born in the U.S. since Michael Jordan won his sixth championship with the Chicago Bulls before retiring for a second time after the 1997-98 season. It has been eight years since Jordan took his last shot for the Washington Wizards and retired from the NBA for a third time.

Picture of Michael Jordan at a basketball game.
Image via Wikipedia

Yet even out of the spotlight, the business of Michael Jordan has never been better. We estimate that Jordan earned $60 million over the past year mainly through his endorsement deals with Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, Upper Deck, 2K Sports and Five Star Fragrances. He also owns five restaurants and a car dealership in North Carolina. His annual earnings are greater than any other sports figure save Tiger Woods who topped our world’s highest-paid athletes this year.

At Jordan’s peak during his playing career, he was making $50 million off the court through sponsorships. He also banked $63 million in combined salary during his last two years with the Bulls.

Gatorade, Hanes and Upper Deck have been long-time Jordan sponsors. 2K Sports signed up Jordan last year to be the cover athlete of NBA 2K11. It sold five million copies making it the No. 1 selling NBA videogame. Jordan is back on the cover of this year’s game and recently inked a multi-year deal with 2K Sports.

When it comes to Jordan’s annual earnings, Nike is his meal ticket and why his endorsement earnings are now higher than when he played. Jordan signed a five-year, $2.5 million pact with Nike in 1984 out of college. The Jordan Brand exploded and now has annual revenues of more than $1 billion with MJ getting a piece of the action. Athletes in the Jordan stable include Derek Jeter, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Denny Hamlin. The Jordan Brand’s market share of the U.S. basketball shoe market is 71% according to SportsOneSource. The rest of Nike holds 22%, while Adidas and Reebok account for just 3% and 2% respectively.

A decade worth of athletes has had the chance to eclipse Michael Jordan in the minds of the consumer. Yet even out of the spotlight Jordan remains the sports personality with the greatest endorsement chops in the U.S.

Nielsen and E-Poll Market Research produce an N-Score for celebrities that measures appeal, likability and awareness. No athlete comes close to matching MJ’s stats who has an N-Score of 682, nearly 300 points higher than any other sports figure. His 71% awareness is among the highest in sports (only Tiger Woods, OJ Simpson and Mike Tyson rank higher and not necessarily for the right reasons). His personality attributes score off the charts and he rates as being liked by 93% of people surveyed. Compare that to LeBron James who 49% of respondents say they dislike.

Part of Jordan’s lasting appeal rests on his ability to skirt anything controversial which is something LeBron has not mastered. “Jordan stayed above the fray,” says Stephen Master, who heads Nielsen’s sports practice. “Republicans buy shoes, too,” Jordan reportedly quipped to a friend on why he wouldn’t endorse a black Democratic candidate, Harvey Gantt, in a 1990 North Carolina Senate race against Republican Jesse Helms.

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Master thinks Jordan’s legacy benefits from playing before the age of social media where every move is scrutinized on Facebook or Twitter. Allegations of gambling and philandering followed Jordan during his career, but he was never dissected the way star athletes are today. Jordan’s popularity extends to social media where his Facebook page counts 13.6 million fans, fourth highest among all athletes.

Jordan has been a fixture on the Forbes Celebrity 100 since it was introduced in 1999. He is one of a handful of celebs to make the cut each year and ranked No. 20 overall last year. We altered the methodology this year so that celebs must be active in their fields whether it is sports, music or Hollywood. In addition to Jordan, the change also kept George Lucas off the Celebrity 100. Lucas continues to make a mint each year thanks to royalties on Star Wars movies and merchandise, but he last directed a movie in 2005.

Forbes estimated Jordan’s net worth at $500 million last year as part of our annual Forbes 400. His Nike checks will keep that figure climbing, but the quickest way for Jordan to reach billionaire status is through his ownership of the Charlotte Bobcats.

Jordan bought a minority share of the Bobcats in 2006, but raised his stake to 80% last year replacing Bob Johnson as the owner in charge. Jordan inherited $150 million in debt on the team, but put up little equity to take control of the franchise. The grossed up value of the deal was $175 million according to sources, compared to the $300 million Johnson paid for the expansion franchise in 2003.

Jordan agreed to supply $100 million in working capital as part of the deal as the Bobcats have been losing in the neighborhood of $20 million a year. Yet $175 million for an NBA team is a steal particularly if owners get the concessions they want from players to settle the current lockout.

Jordan is pushing hard for more revenue sharing among teams which would certainly help the value of the Bobcats. He was fined $100,000 by the NBA this month for speaking publicly about the collective bargaining agreement currently under negotiation.

NBA owners are assured of a better deal under the new CBA than their old deal with the players. The question is how much better and how much richer it will make Jordan.

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