Update: It costs $8.9 million to use Michael Jordan’s name in vain

$126,900? Please.
$126,900? Please.
Image: AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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This story has been updated.

What’s in a name? Apparently more than $126,900. Maybe even $10 million. If you’re Michael Jordan.

The basketball legend has been appearing in a federal court in Chicago, as jurors decide how much Dominick’s Finer Foods, a now-defunct citywide supermarket chain owned by Safeway, owes Jordan for using his name and image without permission in a 2009 ad.

(For perspective: the ad, which Dominick’s placed in a commemorative edition of Sports Illustrated, congratulated Jordan on his induction into the Hall of Fame and offered readers a coupon for $2 off a Rancher’s Reserve steak at any Dominick’s location.)

A judge already found Dominick’s liable in the case, which has been going on for more than five years. Now all that’s left is for a jury to determine the fair-market value for a one-time use of Jordan’s identity, which Dominick’s will have to pay as a penalty. The two sides in the case, however, have wildly different views on what that value is.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, University of Michigan professor of sports management Rodney Fort, hired by Dominick’s as an expert, estimates the worth at $126,900. Fort based the figure on a payment of $100,000 Jordan accepted from a Japanese company to appear in a documentary about him and another deal he made for $500,000 with Sirius radio.

That’s a bit shy of the $10 million that Andrew Zimbalistan, the Smith College professor Jordan hired as his own expert, previously testified is Jordan’s fair-market value. In response to Fort’s figure, Jordan said under no circumstances would he have appeared in the ad for that amount—or any amount, for that matter.

“It didn’t fit the strategy we operated on in terms of signing and evaluating deals,” Jordan said.

Michael Jordan is shown in an undated photo.
Jordan’s game face
Image: AP Photo/Dan Klores Associates

While $10 million for a one-time use in an ad promoting steak may sound absurdly high, Jordan’s attorney told the court on Aug. 12 that those are the prices his client commands. Nike, for instance, paid him $480 million between 2000 and 2012. Other sums he’s earned include $18 million from Gatorade, $14 million from both Hanes and Upper Deck, and $10.6 million from the fragrance company XEL. A separate witness testified that Jordan made $100 million off his name in 2014 alone. (The amount matches the earnings Forbes reported for Jordan last year.)

Certainly, there’s no doubt the likeness of His Airness is extremely valuable, even though Jordan hasn’t played basketball since 2003. It’s literally a brand unto itself—Jordan became its own entity under Nike’s aegis in 1997. And it’s lucrative, which may have influenced the photographer who claims his work was behind Nike’s famous Jumpman logo to sue Nike for a piece of the Jordan brand empire.

Whatever the jury decides Jordan’s identity is worth, it won’t have been worthwhile for the owner of Dominick’s. ”Safeway reports that only two coupons were redeemed,” a court memorandum noted.

Update: On Aug. 21, the civil jury awarded Jordan $8.9 million in damages for the unathorized use of his name. At one point, they sent a note to the judge with the words: “We need a calculator.” Jordan said afterwards: ”I’m so used to playing on a different court. This shows I will protect my name to the fullest.” He plans to donate the money to charity.