Michael Jordan gained fame on the basketball court but earned most of his fortune — estimated at $800 million during the course of his career — off of it. Working with Nike, Hanes, McDonald’s and other brands, he proved his ability to move products for other people. Now he’s pitching a product of his own.
In March, Jordan acquired an 80% stake in the Charlotte Bobcats from billionaire Bob Johnson, founder of the Black Entertainment Television network. He bought low — the National Basketball Association values the franchise at $275 million, $25 million less than Johnson paid for it seven years ago — and the team is on the rise, making its first trip to the playoffs this season. Average attendance at home games grew as it fell in most NBA cities. That gives Jordan something to build on, but he must learn from the mistakes made by Johnson, who failed to get the local business community completely on his team. The Washington, D.C., resident never shook his image as a tight-fisted absentee owner. After unloading the Bobcats, he unloaded on the Queen City, calling it arrogant, incestuous and lacking in efforts to help African-American small businesses.
Jordan was born in Brooklyn and lives in Chicago, but his Tar Heel bona fides are hard to beat — a high-school star in Wilmington who went to Carolina and hit the shot that won a national championship in 1982. He says he’ll buy a home in Charlotte and spend more time there, but how much will be enough? After all, he had been a minority owner and head of basketball operations since 2006.
For the team to turn on-court progress into financial success, Jordan needs to take control and score with sponsors as successfully as he did with the basketball as a player for the Chicago Bulls. “You don’t just market a contract, sign it and put up some signage, but you’re constantly going back to your sponsors asking what the team can do to make the relationship between the sponsor and the team more beneficial,” says Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based consultancy.
At his coming-out party as majority owner, Jordan declared himself ready for the challenge. “I’ve done commercials. I’ve done everything. I’ve been connected with corporate America. I’ve been involved. I’ve been asked to speak to corporate people, to charities — all the things that [team president] Fred [Whitfield] is probably going to ask me within the next six months to be involved in.”
Ganis says Jordan can help Charlotte regain the magic it had when its previous NBA team, the Hornets, routinely led the league in attendance. “He’s got to convince the sponsors that he can get the community on board and that the Bobcats will be a very sponsor-friendly organization. There is no one else who can do it.”