With no live sports to watch, fans have made ESPN’s “The Last Dance” a hit. The 10-part Michael Jordan series is the sports network’s most-watched documentary ever.
The show probably has some super fans at Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE), which has a storied history with the basketball billionaire. Jordan’s 1984 deal was a tremendous boost to the Beaverton, Ore.-based sportswear company, as the Air Jordan brand eventually made billions for both partners.
Forbes recently calculated that Nike has paid Jordan $1.3 billion since 1984. “It is the richest athlete endorsement deal ever but also arguably the biggest bargain given that Jordan helped transform Nike from a scrappy underdog into one of the largest, most valuable consumer brands in the world,” the magazine reported.
“Last Dance” isn’t just a nice nostalgia trip for Nike. A single episode showed the Nike and Air Jordan brands over 100 times, resulting in tangible brand value, according to GumGum Sports, an AI company that measures the value of sponsorships.
As reported in Adweek, “Jordan’s brand partners received an estimated $1.1 million bump [in brand value] from the logos shown in the fifth episode alone.” That “Dance” episode focused on the building of the Jordan brand, starting with the first Air Jordan shoe. GumGum found that the Nike logo was shown 80 times in the course of that single episode.
The value of “Last Dance” can’t be lost on Nike, which features a trailer for the show on its website, which still does a brisk business in Air Jordan merchandise. For its most recent fiscal quarter, Nike said the Jordan brand grew in the double digits. “Our launch of the Air Jordan 11 Bred was the largest in our history with the product selling out in 28 minutes” on Nike’s SNKRS app, executive Andy Campion said in a March call with analysts.
Nike occasionally reissues previous Air Jordan models, which drives sales among sneaker fans and younger audiences drawn to retro looks. Some of these young buyers may not even know who Michael Jordan is. The latest to sell out was the Air Jordan 5 Fire Red, which Jordan originally wore in 1990.
Globally, the Nike brand continues to dominate, and not just in the sportswear category. For the sixth consecutive year, Nike was recently named the most valuable apparel brand in the world by Brand Finance, a London consulting group. It defines brand value as “the net economic benefit that a brand owner would achieve by licensing the brand in the open market.”
Brand Finance said Nike’s brand value increased 7% to $34.8 billion in the last year. “Nike’s bitter rival and fellow sportswear superpower, Adidas, has seen a less successful year, recording a 1% decrease in brand value to $16.5 billion,” Brand Finance said. Adidas is ranked as the third most valuable global brand, behind Gucci at No. 2.
All of these brands have been slammed by the pandemic, with clothing stores sales plunging over 50% in March. With physical stores temporarily closed in April, online sales should be up, but will it be enough? Even as stores reopen, consumer discretionary spending is likely to be depressed. Some brands may not survive long term.
“Nike surpassed the $1 billion milestone in quarterly online sales last year, a feat that not only demonstrates the brand’s sheer dominance in the sector but also puts the brand in a solid position to rise up to the challenge of current worldwide turmoil,” Brand Finance noted.
The company warns that the brand value of the world’s 500 biggest companies could drop by $1 trillion as a result of COVID-19. Not surprisingly, the apparel sector could be the most affected.
The China Story
China is an integral part of Nike’s business. The country is not only the company’s largest manufacturing base, it also has a huge retail business, which was exposed to the coronavirus outbreak long before it hit Europe or the U.S.
One encouraging sign: As Chinese stores closed, online sales popped in its fiscal third quarter, which ended Feb. 29. Nike said pushing workout-at-home routines via its apps helped drive e-commerce sales. “Our digital business in China grew more than 30% and maintained strong momentum throughout this challenging period,” Nike CEO John Donahoe said in March.
The company is hoping for a similar trend in other countries. “Due to the resilience and creativity of our team in China, we now have a playbook that we can use elsewhere,” said Donahoe, referring to a plan for e-commerce and reopening bricks and mortar locations. Donahoe became CEO in January after serving on the company’s board for five years.
Based on Nike’s experience in China, the company sees three phases of business recovery from COVID-19. First is a slow reopening of retail stores. Second is a normalization of consumer demand and supply. Third is a return to strong growth.
Back in March, Nike said China, Japan and Korea were firmly in the second phase. The company even reopened a retail store in Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated.
As of Tuesday morning, NKE stock was trading in the $90 range, down 10.5% year to date. That’s a little worse than the S&P 500, down 9.4% for the same period. The stock price 52-week range is $60 to $105.62. Nike is overwhelmingly rated a Buy by Wall Street analysts and has been fairly resilient during the market downturn.
Nike has fared better in the stock market than Under Armour Inc. (NYSE: UAA). That stock dropped Monday after the company reported a quarterly loss of $589.7 million. Under Armour expects sales to be down as much as 50% in the second quarter, and plans to cut over $300 million in operating costs.
Nike posted $0.53 in earnings per share (EPS) on $10.1 billion in revenue for its fiscal third quarter. Analysts expected EPS of $0.60 in and $9.84 billion in revenue. It reportedly had $0.68 per share and $9.61 billion the same period last year.
Because of the pandemic, the company didn’t provide guidance for the fourth fiscal quarter.