Why Nike wants Michael Jordan to sell sneakers to women

October 16, 2015 10:29
Jordan is a strong brand for men's athletic shoes, but extending the line to women may turn off some of its male fans. Photo: Bloomberg

Nike Inc.’s Michael Jordan brand will introduce sneakers for women as part of its efforts to double sales to US$4.5 billion by 2020.

It will also extend the flagship line to categories beyond basketball, such as gear for runners and football fans, Bloomberg reported.

“It is a great brand and has been one-dimensional -- largely footwear, largely male and US-based,” Nike chief executive Mark Parker told Bloomberg Television’s Stephanie Ruhle in an interview.

“The opportunity is to give the consumer more choice in that brand, carefully.”

The latest efforts will gauge Jordan’s current marketing power and Nike’s reputation as a branding juggernaut, the report said.

There are fears that the move may dilute one of the company’s crown jewels by getting away from its basketball DNA, according to Matt Powell, an analyst for research firm NPD Group.

“It’s doable, but it will really take some thoughtful design work, and the product has to be right also,” Powell said. “If they can harness the strength of the brand, it can work.”

Nike also dominates women’s athletic shoes, but the Jordan brand is nowhere in that category.

While some women are buying boys sizes, current Jordan offerings for women on Nike’s website are limited to accessories like socks, hats and backpacks.

The brand also faces a challenge among 20-somethings, said Neil Schwartz, vice president for market insights at researcher SportsOneSource.

“The millennial, for the most part, never saw Michael play," Schwartz was quoted as saying. "These are the folks who are right now at the forefront of consumer spending.”

But Jordan remains very popular as a celebrity. About 12 years after he ended his basketball career, he is still known by about 97 percent of women in the United States, making him the seventh most influential celebrity for them, according to the Marketing Arm’s Celebrity DBI database. Men rank him 11th.

Another risk of expanding the Jordan brand to women is that it may turn off guys who prefer a men’s-only line, said Laura Ries, president of marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries.

"Jordan is one of the most iconic and successful brands, and it very much aligns with young men," Ries said.

"Once you start diluting it, it doesn’t have the credibility and authenticity it once had, and the guys might not want it anymore."

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