For Jordan Brand, its natural progression was to carve out a niche in the football market, even if the fit might not seem natural at all.
Jordan is basketball. It’s Michael Jordan. The logo is the iconic “Jumpman,” of Jordan skying for a left-handed dunk. Sneakers, not cleats. Dunks, not sacks.
But football is the undeniable king in American sports, and it makes business sense for Jordan to make a bigger push into the market. The brand has dabbled in football for almost 20 years, going back to when it signed Randy Moss as its first NFL addition. Jordan actually wanted to get in the game, literally.
This is the first season the “Jumpman” logo is actually on NFL fields, as its 20 members are wearing the brand’s cleats in games. When Jordan signed San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason, it was a big step toward the Nike subsidiary brand making a bigger mark in the NFL. Garoppolo was the first starting quarterback to represent Jordan, and you need quarterbacks if you’re going to be serious about marketing.
“Since I got in the league, it was one of my dreams to be with Jordan and it came true, so I’m pretty excited about it,” Garoppolo told ESPN.
Current NFL players grew up as the Jordan Brand was peaking; many NFL players are sneakerheads who talk about their Jordan collections that borderline on obsession. And while the basketball shoe game is central to that sport, that hasn’t truly taken hold in the NFL. We know what brands Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kevin Durant wear, but how often do you think about which brand of cleats your favorite football star wears?
Jordan cleats? It’s a new market for the brand
Jordan’s growth beyond basketball has been happening for a while. They have spokespeople in football, baseball, golf, NASCAR and boxing. Four college football teams — Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Oklahoma — wear Jordan Brand gear. They recently partnered with a soccer team for the first time, Paris Saint-Germain.
But no other sport in the United States can match the NFL’s television ratings and popularity, and it made sense for Jordan to get a deeper foothold in that market.
“Football is a signature sport in the U.S., so to continue growing our presence and exposure on the field shows how deeply rooted we are in the culture of sport and allows us to deliver more choices for fans,” Jordan Brand vice president of global brand marketing Sean Tresvant said in an email.
According to Jordan Brand, it added seven players to its NFL roster this season: Le’Veon Bell, Garoppolo, Jordan Howard, Tyrann Mathieu, Sterling Shepard, Michael Thomas and Bobby Wagner. Just like Garoppolo, who grew up near Chicago and rooted for the Bulls, NFL athletes are still enamored with Jordan, the player and the shoe brand. Wagner is a three-time All-Pro linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks, one of the best players in the NFL. Yet, he was admittedly nervous when he approached Jordan at NBA All-Star Game weekend in Los Angeles.
“I went up to him, he acknowledged me, I introduced myself he said, ‘I know who you are, I’m a big fan,'” Wagner said, in a transcript provided by Jordan Brand. “For him to say he is a fan of me, I’ve been watching this dude since forever, for him to say he’s a fan of me like I said it made my weekend. It let me know the hard work is definitely working out but let’s make him a bigger fan and keep working hard. It was pretty dope.”
Jordan is still a legend to athletes like Wagner, who was 13 days short of his eighth birthday when Jordan and the Bulls won their last NBA title.
“Athletes around the world are drawn to MJ, his journey and his iconic legacy,” Tresvant said.
Current players still identify with Jordan, the player and the shoe
Before Wagner signed on with Jordan, his Seahawks teammate Earl Thomas was a representative for the brand. And when a new shipment of shoes came in, his teammates came around to see.
“When he got his boxes, everybody was super excited,” Wagner said.
Wagner has started two Super Bowls, winning one. Garoppolo became the NFL’s hottest name late last season and signed a $137.5 million deal in the offseason. Some of the other NFL players representing Jordan are household names. You wouldn’t think they’d turn into kids again over shoes, but they do.
“When they first sent me my first batch of the Jordan cleats, I was super excited,” Wagner said. “I texted a picture to my dad and my brother. I had told them I was doing it [partnering with the brand] and they didn’t believe me, so I had to send them the pictures to show them this was real.”
Players wore Jordan Concord XI cleats in Week 11 as part of the marketing for the shoe’s release on Dec. 8 (The Undefeated wrote recently about how the Concord XI’s became the hottest retro Jordans among collectors).
While it seems farfetched to believe shoe companies could have anywhere near the impact on the football scene as they do in basketball (if you’ve followed the FBI/college basketball scandal you know how intertwined shoe companies are with the highest levels of basketball), it’s still an intriguing market. Football is still king. Jordan brand still resonates with the players. It’s a bit of a surprise it has taken Jordan this long to expand its NFL reach.
“I’ve been looking forward to being a part since Jordan started getting into football, as soon as they got into football, I wanted to be a part of it,” Wagner said.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Report: Attorney advises 76ers star to leave team over shoulder
• Forced bet shows problem with Tiger-Phil match
• After Smith injury, Redskins turn to ‘insurance package’
• Chiefs’ Mahomes downplays confrontation with Rams’ Peters