To Buy or Not To Buy – Michael Jordan & the Cost of Two Coupons
30th October, 2015
Money is almost always a closely guarded secret, whether between friends, business relations or colleagues.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than the world of sports business with undisclosed fees for player transfers and the value of sponsorship deals rarely disclosed, so not to alert others to an inflated bank balance or be extorted for a fee. However, what happens when a company uses rights it has no possession of?
This was the focus of an unusual dispute between Michael Jordan, Safeway and Jordan’s long-term sponsors Nike.
Following Safeway’s unsolicited use of the Michael Jordan name without permission the two recently visited court to settle a proposed $10 million payment from a 2009 infringement.
In 2009 a subsidiary of Safeway’s placed in an advert and coupon incorporating Jordan’s name and Chicago Bulls number within a commemorative Sports Illustrated issue (of which only two were ever redeemed). However Jordan’s lawyers and endorsement history advise that he would not have accepted such a deal. Safeway believed this should be in the region of $126,900, more widely reported as closer to $500,000 from a licencing agreement which MJ held at one point over the last decade.
The argument posed by the athlete is that Jordan name is such a force in the marketing world that this requires a substantial rights fee, something he is keen to reinforce following a statement reporting an income of over $536 million in sponsorship alone from 2000 to 2012.
This is where Nike and other sponsors take interest.
As MJ and his legal team seek to prove how much an organisation typically purchases these rights leading to Judge John Blakely to rule that Nike and other sponsors must divulge their contracts to the court – something that they neither asked for, nor were keen to divulge to their competitors.
Despite being desperate to retain the fiscal anonymity within Michael Jordan’s contract, (a document so closely guarded reportedly only three member of staff have access and it is held in a separate area to all other contractual agreements at the Nike headquarters) the judge ruled this must be shown to the court.
The case is now settled with Safeway ordered to pay $8.6m in rights fees to Jordan, despite Michael expressing “it was never about the money”.
In the world of sponsorship it is always better to acquire those rights than use without permission – who knows it might just save you $8.1m in the long run.