Magazine article Newsweek

He Scored as Much for Corporate America as He Did for the Bulls. Sports Marketing Will Never Be the Same

Magazine article Newsweek

He Scored as Much for Corporate America as He Did for the Bulls. Sports Marketing Will Never Be the Same

Article excerpt

No Heirs to Air Jordan

Will anyone be big enough to fill Michael Jordan's size-13 Nikes? That's not just a question for the NBA, but also for Nike and the companies that rely on Jordan -- and other athletes -- to sell their shoes, clothes, cars and burgers. In dollar terms, Jordan was even more successful as a corporate spokesman ($45 million in 1998) than he was on the basketball court ($35 million). He's not going to disappear now that he's walked away from sports. But experts say that a retired athlete -- even Jordan -- can't compete with a guy who's still winning championships. With the sports-marketing business already in a slump, there may be no heirs to Air Jordan.

And how could there be? "He's the most amazing endorser ever," says Rick Burton, director of the sports-marketing center at the University of Oregon. "He's handsome, articulate, classy. He had a purity to his performance on court and off. It's hard to find the perfect celebrity these days." In addition to moving sneakers and basketballs, Jordan made millions for nonsports businesses like MCI/Worldcom and McDonald's. That success changed the way companies look at athletes: George Foreman sells mufflers. Martina Hingis pushes shampoo. African-Americans benefited too. "He helped advertisers become colorblind," says Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports Celebrity Service. "Go down the list of the top 10 endorsers: Tiger Woods, Grant Hill, Shaquille O'Neal. It's dominated by black athletes. …

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