Beyond the Logo: Unveiling the Untold Value of Air Jordan’s UNC Partnership

Lucrative sponsorship deals have consistently served as a driving force behind the success and wealth of the sports world for both teams and athletes. One of the most renowned collaborations in college athletics is the partnership between NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s iconic Air Jordan brand and his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). As a student walking around UNC, I can attest that the Jordan logo is everywhere to be seen. 

The partnership between UNC and Nike, including its subsidiary Jordan brand, began in 1993, as the college’s athletic program was supplied with shoes, uniforms, travel gear, and other equipment. On December 19, 2018, UNC and Nike announced a 10-year extension of their partnership, worth an average of $6.27 million per year. As one of the top 10 most valuable apparel deals in the NCAA, the Tar Heels were provided with $4.8 million worth of apparel during the 2022-23 calendar year, with a $100,000 increase every subsequent year. Additional benefits include custom Jordan merchandise for players, a Jordan shoe wall installed in locker rooms that serves as a large appeal on recruiting visits, and a $3.25 million base cash compensation over the same period. For comparison, UNC’s previous deal with Nike was worth an average of $1.38 million per year. Needless to say, they are a prime example of how such collaborations can reap significant benefits for both parties involved. 

However, the true extent of the partnership’s value goes far beyond the numbers. In our current digital age, where social media plays a significant role in shaping public perception and brand influence, the Air Jordan-UNC collaboration has found an even more significant, yet underrated, avenue for success. Conducting data analysis on UNC’s social media activity related to the Air Jordan logo reveals a captivating story of engagement and resonance with fans, surpassing what traditional numbers on paper contracts can capture.

A Look at the Numbers

Diving into the social media content of the top UNC sports teams, the average brand exposure value of the Air Jordan logo per post was meticulously calculated on different platforms (as seen in the figures below). Gathering metrics from the content of just seven teams, Air Jordan yielded a staggering total sum of $775,113.44 on Instagram, $427,109.10 on Twitter, and $1,984.25 on Facebook.

UNC Football, Men’s Basketball, and Women’s Basketball contributed the most astounding results and were the top three teams performing astoundingly well in total brand exposure value. But, the numbers also tell us that less high-profile NCAA sports like baseball, field hockey, and soccer continue contributing to the overall brand exposure value, though to a lesser extent. This data illustrates the social worth of the Air Jordan brand and its ability to resonate with the masses.

A Deeper Dive

As we delve deeper into the brand exposure value, an intriguing comparison emerges: the Air Jordan logo on apparel versus the Air Jordan watermark on posts. This analysis uncovers fascinating insights into the significance of logo placement.

The Air Jordan logo displayed on UNC’s athletic apparel certainly commands attention, contributing to a significant brand exposure value sum of $271,347.89. Athletes, coaches, and fans proudly showcasing the iconic Jumpman logo amplify the brand’s presence with every jersey, T-shirt, shoe, and hoodie in both the foreground and background of posts. However, the assumption that the apparel logo would generate the most value due to its frequency in a single picture is not entirely accurate.

The watermarking of posts truly showcases the power of the Air Jordan brand on social media. When UNC Athletic teams post images featuring the Air Jordan logo as a watermark, they act as brand ambassadors, extending the reach and resonance of the brand far beyond the confines of traditional apparel. This dynamic approach generated an impressive brand exposure value sum of $793,676.09, outshining the logo’s value on apparel by a considerable margin.

The watermarking strategy demonstrates an intentional strategy on UNC’s part to proudly make the Jordan logo a prominent feature in their posts without being overtly promotional. This unobtrusive yet consistently impactful presence ensures that the Air Jordan brand becomes integral to UNC Athletic’s social media landscape, garnering attention, engagement, and loyalty from an ever-expanding audience.

The Influence on the Audience

Beyond the captivating brand exposure data, audience affinities offer another perspective into the relationship between UNC Athletics and the Jordan brand. Analyzing the followers of the same seven UNC teams reveals an impressive 14.7% social connection between the Tar Heel audience and the iconic Jordan brand, providing insights into the likelihood of their favorability towards this entity on social media networks.

Within the fashion and apparel category, an audience affinity with Jordan ranks first among competitors like Adidas and Under Armour. This remarkable number surpasses the general audience baseline of a 0.9% brand affinity by a staggering 17.0x. This index speaks volumes about the deep-rooted loyalty connection between the Tar Heel fanbase and the Jumpman logo.

The analysis of audience affinities further solidifies the authenticity of the Air Jordan-UNC partnership, extending beyond what is written on paper. Past the realms of financial deals, a community of fans, coaches, and athletes are united under a shared passion and admiration. This remarkable bond reveals that the relationship between these two iconic entities goes beyond logos and apparel; as the audience’s social connection and brand affinity for Air Jordan thrive, this legendary collaboration’s future shines bright. 

Amplifying Reach Through Athletes

Beyond the collective impact of UNC Athletics’ social media presence, the influence of individual athletes adds an exciting layer to the partnership. Looking into the profiles of four of the biggest current UNC athletes – Deja Kelly (women’s basketball), Armando Bacot (men’s basketball), RJ Davis (men’s basketball), and Drake Maye (football) – reveals an intriguing revelation. While UNC and Air Jordan’s contracts do not directly include these players, their affiliation with the school thus adds to the hidden social value of the partnership.

Though athletes are not obligated to promote Air Jordan, they still act as brand ambassadors for Jordan whenever they post pictures of themselves in their jerseys or apparel. Deja Kelly, a top prospect for the 2024 WNBA Draft, generated a notable brand exposure value of $2,466.69 for Jordan in one singular post (shown below). With each post, UNC athletes inadvertently contribute to the brand’s public exposure and recognition.

The numbers above display how impactful the unintentional promotion from UNC athletes is for Jordan, with Deja Kelly producing a high average brand exposure value per post. While their social media content showcases talent and love for the game, it also reinforces the loyalty and relationship between individual athletes, their teams, and the iconic Jumpman logo. 

This adds a new dimension to the developments of NIL (name, image, and likeness) regarding sponsorships for athletes. Their social media presence exemplifies their ability and potential to profit from brand endorsements as their audience grows. It is a prime example of how the Jordan-UNC partnership goes beyond written contracts and creates a dynamic environment for athletes and brands to thrive together. As the landscape of college sports continues to evolve, the hidden social value of partnerships like Air Jordan and UNC will undoubtedly play an increasingly pivotal role in shaping the future of NIL.

A Lasting Legacy 

This wealth of social media exposure undoubtedly enhances the partnership’s overall value. The Air Jordan-UNC alliance transcends the realm of sports apparel and seeps into popular culture, making it a coveted and influential brand in the world of athletics. The engagement and enthusiasm generated through these social media posts create a ripple effect, drawing in more fans, sponsors, and potential recruits.

In conclusion, the partnership deal between Air Jordan and UNC is not only financially substantial but also strategically brilliant. The brand exposure value analysis on social media showcases the enduring appeal of the Air Jordan logo and its profound impact on the Tar Heel athletics community. This data provides valuable insights for future collaborations between sports brands and universities, emphasizing the often underestimated power of social media presence in amplifying the reach and influence of such partnerships. As social media continues to shape the landscape of modern sports marketing, the value of iconic brand alliances like Air Jordan and UNC will undoubtedly remain unparalleled.

* Data is collected between 08/01/2022-06/30/2023

* X/Twitter Data leveraged for Audience Affinity data 

Header Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash