Michael Jordan will go down not only as one of the greatest athletes of all time, but he’ll likely be remembered as the greatest endorser of all time.
As Jordan gets inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, those brands that have paid to stay with them over the years are still happy for the association.
But while Nike (25 years) and Gatorade (18 years) come to mind as long-term partners, Hanes
is often let out of the mix.
Nevertheless, the apparel maker has aired over 25 commercials with Jordan over the past two decades, including the most recent spot with Charlie Sheen pitching the brand’s Lay Flat Collar undershirts and No Ride Up boxer briefs.
“Michael’s appeal is extraordinary,” said Sidney Falken, senior vice president of the Hanes brand. “He is able to appeal to such a wide range of people, men and women, young and old.”
Hanes execs also say that Jordan appeals to people of all classes. Unlike its main competitor, Fruit of the Loom, the $4.5 billion apparel brand is sold in both high-end stores and in the mass market retailers. As a result, Hanes has one of its products in 85 percent of US households.
“We use Michael in a different way than Nike or Gatorade does,” said David Robertson, the brand’s director of marketing. “They use him as the basketball player, we’ve always used him as the person and we’ve found that his stardom transcends the game.”
Despite the fact that Jordan has been retired for almost 6 ½ years, a Harris Poll taken in June revealed that he was America’s second favorite male athlete, behind Tiger Woods. Jordan was the only male athlete on the list who is retired.
The Jordan relationship started in 1989 when an executive with Sara Lee, which owned Hanes before it was spun off, approached Jordan. Despite the fact that Jordan’s endorsement price climbed as he racked up NBA titles and MVP awards, the two stuck with each other.
“If you think about the fact that Michael could have endorsed any product he wanted and he stayed with us, that’s a pretty powerful statement,” Falken said.
"He has always had a special bond with the people in the company," said Estee Portnoy, Jordan's business manager. "And of course, they continue to innovate their products. He loves the comfort -- his tagless tees and his lucky UNC shorts!" (Jordan famously wore his college shorts under his Bulls uniform.)
Although Hanes officials wouldn’t disclose exactly how much they think Jordan has helped, Robertson says the company’s investment in Jordan has been “a good value.”
Things aren’t a perfect slam dunk for HanesBrands, however. Standard & Poor’s placed a “junk” status credit rating on the company last week.
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