Michael Jordan has retired and his decision has united in grief his
fans, his team, the Chicago Bulls, the National Basketball Association,
his sponsors and the television networks that bought the rights to the
The problem facing General Electric’s NBC and Time-Warner’s Turner
Broadcasting is that they have forked out nearly dollars 3 billion
between them to broadcast the NBA over four years. But without Jordan,
fewer people are expected to tune in.
Tim Spangler, US senior vice-president and general manager for national
TV at Western International Media, has estimated the ratings fall. ’We
think 10 to 15 per cent fewer people will watch the NBA as a result of
Jordan’s retirement. Televised games with the Bulls did better than
other games by more than 30 per cent,’ he says.
Paul Woolmington, president of Media Edge, Young & Rubicam’s global
media operation, adds: ’Jordan has brought people into the game that
wouldn’t otherwise have been watching.’
So will media buyers take advantage of Jordan’s absence to demand lower
rates during NBA games? Spangler thinks not: ’The NBA is still the best
place to reach young men on TV.’
But such goodwill cannot be taken for granted. Last Thursday, Miller
Brewing announced it was not renewing its 18-year sponsorship of the
Miller claims the decision was unrelated to Jordan’s retirement but the
timing calls this into question. The recent pay strike by NBA players,
which dogged the league for months, is widely believed to have damaged
the NBA’s image in fans’ eyes and is likely to have influenced Miller’s
Jordan’s image was unaffected by the controversy, however, and his
sponsors - including Nike, Gatorade and Hanes - between them pay him
more than dollars 60 million a year. Fortune estimates he has had an
estimated dollars 15.7 billion impact on the US economy since he joined
the NBA in 1984.
Jordan’s retirement will not end his endorsements but it could remove
him from the front of sports fans’ minds.
Matthew Patten, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sponsorship, says:
’His attraction will diminish almost immediately. The NBA gave him and
his sponsors a wonderful stage on which to perform. At best, he could
become a spokesperson for the sport.’
Only Nike has signed a star of similar potential to Jordan, the golfing
champion, Tiger Woods. Spangler says: ’The ratings go up by a higher
percentage when Woods is on television than they do with Jordan.’
However, the downside is Woods has a less reliable winning track record
than the basketball hero.
Jordan has now entered the sporting superleague, joining such luminaries
as Babe Ruth, Pele and Muhammad Ali. As Woolmington explains: ’There has
been an ebb and flow of sporting personalities since time immemorial.
Every decade a huge personality emerges in each sport.’
Advertisers must hope that Tiger Woods either improves his swing or
takes up basketball.