Jordan is no slam dunk
September 28, 2001: 11:39 a.m. ET

Economic impact of superstar's third coming will be less than expected
A weekly column by Staff Writer Chris Isidore
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Michael Jordan's third coming has excited basketball fans, but in terms of economic impact, his return to the game looks as underwhelming as the last-place team he will join.

That may seem strange to say of the man whose career netted $500 million of lifetime endorsements, ticket sales and television ratings not seen in the sport before or since and, oh yes, six championships. But there's relatively little financial upside for most of the corporate players on Team Jordan.

For the man himself, returning to the game means little if any immediate financial payoff. League salary cap rules forced him to sell his minority interest in the Wizards in order to return to the game, although details of that sale have not been released.

Michael Jordan probably won't be adding to his collection of sponsors even with his return to the court.
He'll make the league minimum $1 million salary, which he said he'll donate to a relief fund helping victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. He won't see more from current sponsorship deals, and he probably won't see many new deals due to his return.

"Sponsors have to balance the short-term bump from the Jordan effect with the reality that Jordan won't be playing basketball three to five years from now, while other athletes they need to be focusing on will be," said Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports & Celebrity, a firm that arranges and tracks celebrity endorsements.

That's not to say there will be no financial impact. Since Tuesday, when Jordan announced his return, ticket sales have soared for the Wizards and for the rest of the league for the games against the Wizards.

Last season Washington's average road attendance was the fourth worst in the league, with an average of 15,872 fans buying tickets to each game.

But even the two-time defending champions Los Angeles Lakers, who led the league in road attendance last year, averaged only 19,628 fans per road game last season. Even 4,000 extra tickets a night at an average of $50 per ticket will only produce another $8.2 million for the league, not a staggering sum for the other 28 teams to split.

The Wizards will at least come close to selling out all their home games now, of course, rather than just three quarters of their seats they sold last year. Single-game tickets for the Wizards go on sale Monday, and season tickets are now close to sold out. But that's just one franchise.


Television ratings are likely to climb for NBC. The network has seen ratings for its basketball games plunge during both of Jordan's retirements. But since not even Jordan himself expects the lowly Wizards to be playing in the NBA Finals this year, the advantage for NBC also will be limited. The big ratings numbers, and ad dollars, come from the playoffs. And NBC doesn't start packing the schedule with regular season games until mid-January. By that time interest in Jordan could have dropped off if he hasn't lived up to his fans' lofty expectations.

At this point NBC doesn't even have any Wizards game on its schedule, although a spokeswoman said that schedule is flexible enough that games with Jordan will likely be added.

"There's going to be the curiosity factor," said an executive at A.C. Nielsen, which tracks television viewership. "But if it's not going to be a great game, they'll be tuning out and turning to something else."

Jordan's sponsors don't expect to see any significant change in sales of their products. In the two and a half years since Jordan stopped playing basketball, sales of his brand of Nike apparel have continued to grow. So have sales of Gatorade, the sports drink he has helped hawk since shortly after his first championship in 1991.

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"Our sales have grown double digit annually through the last 10 years," said P.J. Sinopoli, a spokeswoman for Gatorade. "His stops and starts on the court have not impacted our impressive growth record."

Staff Writer Chris Isidore covers the business of sports for
Some have suggested that there is a risk to Jordan's reputation, and the strength of the brands, if his performance on the court is less than Jordan-like.

"You hate to see a superstar go beyond that point where he should. I have such a positive memory, that's my concern," said John Antil, a University of Delaware marketing professor and an expert on sports endorsements. "If people start talking about how he shouldn't be playing, it would devalue his marketability."

But the sponsors say they're not worried. Greg Johnson, the marketing director of Brand Jordan for Nike, says fans will embrace a great player coming back to play for free, no matter the results.

"I don't think if he comes back and scores 12 points a game, the brand is going to die," said Johnson.

The bottom line: Jordan's third coming might be the one time an athlete who is saying it's not about the money actually means it. That could truly separate him from his peers. graphic

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