One of Nike’s biggest recent business shifts will be on full display this week when March Madness kicks off in arenas nationwide.
There will be six teams bearing the Jordan Brand “Jumpman” logo in the men’s basketball tournament this year, up from just two in 2018. While Nike (NYSE: NKE) is prioritizing the lifestyle brand in more corners of the market, the NCAA’s biggest event has become a high-profile display of this growth.
The Jumpman schools competing in the first round are UCLA, Michigan, UNC, Marquette, San Diego State and Houston. They are part of Jordan’s growing college stable, which also includes Oklahoma and Florida.
Overall, as has been the case for at least the past decade, Nike has by far the most teams in the men’s arena. Nike equips 39 of 68 teams (including Jordanian schools), with Under Armor in 16th place and Adidas with the other 13, according to data from Apex Sports Marketing. Those numbers have fluctuated slightly over the past seven years, but the trends have largely held – that’s Nike’s market, with two other smaller players and no one else.
The growth of Jordan Brand, however, is a relatively new change. Over the past five years, Nike has pushed the brand, once primarily men’s sneakers and lifestyle apparel, into new areas. This included a historic football partnership with Paris Saint-Germain in 2018 – Jordan’s first with a European club – and extending into other sports like college football and baseball. The brand is also doubling down on its efforts in womenswear and in certain international markets.
The changes paid off on the balance sheet. Jordan achieved $4.7 billion in revenue in 2021, up 65% in the past three years alone ($2.9 billion in 2018). Under Armor (NYSE: UAA), by comparison, had $5.7 billion in revenue in 2021.
While the distribution of businesses hasn’t changed much in the past seven years, the money apparel companies are willing to pay has changed dramatically. This shift has been spurred by Under Armour, once a big spender, turning away from costly long-term marketing deals. This left Nike and Adidas as the only major players in the market moving forward, giving them leverage at the negotiating table.
In 2015 and 2016, Under Armor committed hundreds of millions of dollars in apparel deals through the NCAA, a frenzy that also prompted Nike and Adidas to up their bids. Then the company contracted – Under Armor’s stock price fell 85% from September 2015 to April 2020 – and in the midst of a multi-year restructuring, the company decided to focus its marketing efforts on individual athletes like Steph Curry, Tom Brady and Dwayne “The Rock”. Johnson. Over the past few years, Under Armor has ended its on-field licensing agreement with the NFL and exited a number of its larger college partnerships.
No school exemplifies this trend better than UCLA. In 2016, UCLA signed a 15-year, $280 million deal with Under Armour, one of the largest college apparel partnerships in history. Four years later, Under Armor sued to back out of the deal, and amid an ongoing legal battle, UCLA signed Jordan Brand to a six-year contract worth $46.45 million. dollars, less than half the annual value of the AU partnership.
There’s only one school in the NCAA Tournament that doesn’t sport the Nike or Jumpman swoosh, the Adidas three-stripe logo, or Under Armour’s interlocking UA. Davidson, who won the Atlantic 10 tournament, is an Under Armor school, but his jerseys bear the Curry brand logo, possibly the very first steps in the attempt to build Under Armor’s version of the Jordan brand.
Sportico will post short commercial highlights throughout the three-week NCAA tournament.
March 14: Overtime launches an NFT-based bracket contest
March 15: Underdogs lag behind in power, lore and money