If you use Michael Jordan’s name in an advertisement without his permission, you will likely pay dearly for it. Safeway found this out the hard way on Friday, when a federal court in Chicago ordered they pay Jordan $8.9 million for an ad that was run for the now-defunct Dominick’s supermarket chain that used Jordan’s name to promote sales without his permission.
The unauthorized ad was part of a 2009 Sports Illustrated commemorative issue congratulating Jordan on his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and included a $2-off coupon above a photo of a sizzling steak. The ad also contained the text, “Michael Jordan … You are a cut above.”
The ad turned out to be a complete failure for the grocer. Because it was part of a commemorative issue, readers were apparently hesitant to tear out the $2 steak coupons and compromise the condition of the magazine. As a result, only two coupons were redeemed. But the problems didn’t end there.
A judge ruled prior to the trial that the now-defunct Dominick’s Finer Foods, which was owned by Safeway, was liable. This left appropriate damages that would be awarded as the sole unresolved issue. Ultimately, Jordan’s lawyers and Jordan himself testified that his endorsement history suggests he would not have taken the deal. But if he had there was considerable disparity regarding fair compensation for the advertisement.
Lawyers for Safeway held that Jordan should be paid $126,900 for the use of his name in the ad. However, Jordan’s legal representatives had a much different figure in mind. Jordan’s legal team brought in sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, who testified that Jordan’s fair market value for the ad was $10 million.
Jurors deliberated for six hours before returning with an $8.9 million figure, at one point sending a note to the judge that said, “We need a calculator.”
Jordan’s attorneys claimed that he’s made $480 million in endorsements since 2000. They emphasized that it’s very important to him to protect his brand. Clearly, the name “Michael Jordan” is still a massive draw no matter what product it’s attached to, which has allowed Jordan to be selective about which products he endorses. He’s a six-time NBA champion, five-time NBA MVP, 14-time All-Star, 10-time member of the All-NBA First Team, and two-time Olympic gold medalist. This has allowed him to command $10 million per deal.
Jordan has underscored that his decision to pursue the suit was not based on financial gain. “I’m pleased with today’s verdict,” he announced in a statement. “…The case was not about the money as I plan to donate the proceeds to charity.”
This case clearly emphasizes the mass appeal that can be offered when a top athlete lends their name—and brand, to promote a product or business. Mega-deals have similarly been earned by other athletes such as LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, and many others over the years. Clearly, retailers and other businesses see the value in these relationships as such deals continue to be negotiated.
This week we decided to have a little fun with our poll question. What if the loss prevention industry had the opportunity to elect a sports legend to represent the profession? Which athlete would be our choice? What would be the reasoning behind our decisions? We may not have $8.9 million to spend to sign someone, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate…
This week’s LP Magazine Instant poll question asks: Which sports legend would you choose if the loss prevention industry had the opportunity to select a spokesperson to represent the profession?
- John Stockton NBA Steals Leader
- Ricky Henderson, MLB Steals Leader
- Paul Krause, NFL Interceptions Leader
- David “Tiger” Williams, NHL Penalty Minutes Leader
- Someone Else
To participate in this week’s poll, click here.
Also, we’re well aware that there are many other directions that we could take our pool of choices, but we only have so many options to provide to you. If you chose the “Someone Else” option, who did you have in mind? We’d love to hear your choices and your reasons. Athletes have earned their place and their reputations, so let’s have fun but keep it respectful. If you’d like to share those thoughts and opinions, please click here.