Michael Jordan is a basketball icon. The Jordan Brand is a business, it’s part of Nike, and like any brand it needs to expand its markets.
But to NASCAR? Yes. It may seem like an odd marriage — the sport with the most urban of fan base and the one with the most middle-American and rural — but right now the leading NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin sports the “jumpman” Jordan brand logo on his shoulder, back, belt and racing gloves.
And it started with a personal relationship. Hamlin — the current leader in the Sprint Cup Series standings — became a Bobcats season ticket holder a few years back (courtside, of course). And as he explained at NBA.com, he ran into Jordan at a game back in 2010.
I kind of walked by him at halftime whenever I went to a little bar area behind the court. So he was there one time, and he actually stopped me to congratulate me on my race the previous week. I don’t know if we had won or been in contention to win. I was like, ‘You watch NASCAR?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I watch it every single week.’ And he started asking me a couple questions like, ‘What about this guy? Was this is a good move when that guy did this?’ And I started thinking, ‘Wow. This guy actually knows what’s going on in our sport.’
So from that point on, we just started a texting conversation for the next few months, and basically I asked permission from him to represent the Jordan brand in NASCAR.
This is a deal that works out well for both sides, explains an article at Forbes.com.
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.
One guy wearing the Jumpman logo is not going to make basketball a hot red state sport, nor is it going to mean every inner city youth is going to want to grow up to be Jeff Gordon. (Should anyone want to grow up and be Jeff Gordon?)
But it’s a step. A small but important step. You combine that with the Thunder drawing big in Oklahoma City and you start to see some little changes. Little seeds. That’s where it starts.
And, of course, Nike and Jordan will be there to capitalize on it and make money.