By Lance Madden (Forbes.com, Sept. 11, 2012).
When you think of Michael Jordan, many things might come to mind. Legend. Greatness. Gravity defiance. Basketball in general is an obvious one. NASCAR, however, isn’t usually at the top of the list. But Nike’s Jordan Brand and motorsports are becoming more and more congruous.
Driver Denny Hamlin, currently No. 1 in the NASCAR power rankings, signed with Jordan Brand in 2011. This week he hopped behind the wheel of NBA.com’s Monday morning column, The Morning Tip, to give a little bit of insight to his relationship with the mega athletic apparel brand. Hamlin is a big-time basketball fan who has a full court with lights and a scoreboard at his house. He has had courtside seats at Charlotte Bobcats games dating back to 2007. In 2010, Jordan, the owner of the team, recognized the driver at a game and the two struck up a friendship. Jordan, who founded Michael Jordan Motorsports (MJM) in 2004, agreed to let Hamlin rep his brand, marking the first sneaker brand sponsorship in the NASCAR circuit since Adidas sponsored Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2007.
Hamlin, who has racked up more than $5.3 million in winnings this year and whose main sponsor is FedEx, now sports the Jumpman logo on his uniform belt, back, shoulders and racing gloves. It’s a unique relationship that has helped the Jordan Brand expand not only from the basketball court but from America’s mainstream bat and ball sports. Baseball players Derrick Jeter and Andruw Jones, football players Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens, and even boxer Andre Ward — among many other athetles — rep the Jordan Brand. But this is the, ahem, fastest Jordan sponsorship ever.
This relationship between Hamlin and Jordan is very significant not only for the Jordan Brand, but for sports endorsements in general. First of all it shines light on the Jordan Brand as more than just a sneaker brand. Also, it could be a stretch, but the sponsorship might actually help mesh the fan base of more urban sports, like basketball, and racing, which would be a big leap racially. Only six black drivers have raced in NASCAR’s 64-year history coming into 2012. Darrell Wallace Jr. made a name for himself this summer as a Drive for Diversity Program participant and is vying to become just the second African American Sprint Cup driver since 1986. The 18-year-old Wallace is also helping with another category of fan demographics, as the median age of NASCAR fans, according to Nielsen, is currently 51.6.
In 2009, 8.6 percent of NASCAR fans were African American, up from 7.6 percent in 2005. Meanwhile, 83 percent of NBA players were non-white athletes in 2011, including 78 percent African American, according to human rights activist and scholar Richard Lapchick.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, the multi-sport branding is very telling of the Jordan Brand’s overall dominance. It is a large reason why Nike is No. 352 on the Forbes Global 2000 list, marking the world’s largest public companies. From a social standpoint, the sky is the limit. When will a professional bull rider or pro fisherman be sponsored by a major athletic apparel brand next? Who will be the next Hamlin to expand a historically urban brand into a predominately white sport, or vice versa?
All it takes is one friendly relationship. And maybe courtside seats.
Story at Forbes.com.