Air, a new movie directed by actor Ben Affleck, tells the story of how a Nike salesman signed rising star Michael Jordan and created one of the most successful shoe lines—Air Jordan.
- In 1984, Nike signed a deal with Michael Jordan, paying him $500,000 per year for five years—triple any other NBA deal at the time, and Jordan was still a rookie.
- The first Air Jordan shoe was released in 1985, and Nike hoped to sell 100,000 pairs in the first year, however, they ended up selling 450,000 pairs in the first month.
- By the end of the first year of the release, Air Jordan had brought in total revenue of $126 million compared to Nike’s year total of $65 million the year prior, according to Collider.
Why it’s news
Celebrity endorsements can have a powerful effect on a brand—quite often launching obscure products into the national and international spotlight. It is a marketing strategy that leverages an individual’s fame to win over the person’s audience.
It’s usually good—in the case of Michael Jodan and Nike Air, sales soared like the Chicago Bulls star himself flew through the air. It can also falter—as most recently, Adidas’ gamble on rapper Kanye West left the shoe company with more than $1 billion in unsold inventory after the celeb’s anti-semetic comments.
Air, a new movie hitting theaters in April, explains how Michael Jordan took Nike from financially struggling to becoming the largest shoe company in the world.
The movie explains the story of how Nike salesman Sonny Vaccaro’s relentless efforts to sign rookie Michael Jordan ended up with the Oregon-based shoe company securing a deal and launching a shoe brand that has sold nearly $5 billion to date.
Salesman Sonny Vaccaro made the biggest bet in sports history by convincing Nike co-founder Phil Knight to secure a deal with then-rookie Michael Jordan.
At the time, Nike was not a large shoe brand and was struggling. Adidas and Converse were the leading shoe brands, specifically in the NBA, and Nike wanted to break into the space.
Vacarro wanted to offer Jordan a deal, but both co-founder Phil Knight and Jordan were hesitant. Vacarro begged Jordan to just listen to the deal Nike had to offer, but he refused, leading Vacarro to reach out to Jordan’s mother.
His mother convinced him to at least listen to the deal where Nike offered him the largest contract the NBA had ever heard of—$500,000 per year for five years. Jordan took the deal, and history was made.
The following year Jordan wore the first-ever Air Jordan shoe during his rookie season, but the shoe got Jordan fined due to its coloration being black and white, and at the time, players had to wear white shoes on the court.
Nike ran ads saying the NBA could not handle the heat of the shoe, which increased the popularity that the shoes were a bold fashion statement.
Nike officially released the first Air Jordan sneakers to the public on April 1, 1985, at a retail price of $65. Nike also hoped sales would reach $3 million by the fourth year of Jordan’s contract, but sales reached a total of $30 million in the first month.
By the end of the first year of the release, Air Jordan had brought in total revenue of $126 million compared to Nike’s year total of $65 million the year prior and ultimately began Nike’s journey to becoming the number one shoe brand.
The movie is set to tell Nike’s story in theaters beginning April 5.