Protecting the Michael Jordan Brand
Basketball legend Michael Jordan has an image and a brand to maintain. Today, he makes the majority of his money off of his brand, and when something encroaches into that territory, there’s really no other choice but to take action. Jordan has had to do this on several different occasions. However, the legalities can be a bit muddled when it comes to whether certain uses of his image or name, which he’s not paid for, devalue his brand.
The Unauthorized Advertisement
We know that Jordan has a number of high profile sponsorship deals with companies such as Nike and Hanes. He’s paid, and paid very well, for those sponsorships. However, some smaller companies that would not have the means to get a celebrity of Jordan’s caliber have taken to using images or text with his name. In some cases, it’s cut and dry – the company is using the image in a way that miscommunicated Jordan’s actual affiliation with them.
However, in other cases, such as the one that went to trial in 2015, things are a bit hazier. Dominick’s Finer Foods, which no longer exists, put an ad in the 2009 Sports Illustrated issue that congratulated Jordan on entering the Basketball Hall of Fame. The ad contained a coupon for $2, along with a photograph of a steak. It had text that read “Michael Jordan…You are a cut above.”
During the first case, a judge ruled that the company did use Jordan’s name without permission, and the second part of the trial was regarding the damages for the usage. This big question at play was just how much it could have devalued his brand. Putting his name on something that he did not specifically endorse could have ended up costing him a substantial amount of money. Jordan said that he will only sign long-term deals that will be worth at least $10 million, and he never would have been in an ad like Dominick’s. He said it compared him to a piece of meat.
The jury found in favor of Jordan and awarded him $8.9 million. While Jordan was happy about winning the case, he did say, “It was never about the money”. He was simply worried that if Dominick’s were to win this case, it could set a precedent, and companies would then be able to use loopholes to utilize Jordan’s name, as well as the names of other people, without their permission and without paying them anything for the use of their name. Upon leaving the courthouse, he said, “It’s my name, and I’ve worked hard for it for 30-something years, and I’m not just going to let someone take it.”
Jordan isn’t the only celebrity to have been involved in these types of legal battles over the years, and he will not be the last. There are always companies that are looking for loopholes and tricks they can use to get their advertising and endorsements paying less, or not paying anything at all. Cases that have these types of outcomes though should give those companies cause to reconsider.