AIR – Movie Review
Nike’s revenues for twelve months ending Feb. ‘23 was USD 50.62 Bn.
This was much higher than all its rivals put together!
Adidas’ 2022 revenue was USD 22 Bn, Reebok was USD 353 mn (was USD 1.9 Bn in 2006), PUMA was USD 8 Bn, and Converse was USD 1.9 Bn.
However, this wasn’t the way during the 1980s.
Adidas was the market leader followed by Converse, especially in the US, in the sporting segment. Basketball was becoming popular due to the greatness of the likes of Magic Johnson and others. A new talent was taking shape – Michael Jordan. He was not only inspiring scores of black kids in the US and across the world, rather an entire generation.
AIR is a movie not just about Jordan’s greatness, rather how Nike bounced up and above with its AIR sneakers and the future innovations around the iconic sportsman.
The year was 1984. Nike, the underdog among the others in the fray to sponsor basketball players is in a state of dilemma. Sneaker sales are slowing down. Previous bets on players haven’t been favourable either. And their sponsorship kitty is too small at USD 250,000 to afford senior & popular players. Founder and CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) is worried about the fate of the basketball division, to which he had brought in talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) to revive. Most of the leadership team is not happy with Sonny’s choices and outcomes.
Sonny, on the other hand, is a maverick basketball enthusiast, who eats, sleeps the game. When he is in and out of casinos, that is, where he spends time and money mindlessly. And that makes his colleagues think that Sonny is always disillusioned.
One night while watching some of the previous games, Sonny is stunned with a particular play by a young kid in the fray, Michael Jordan. He rewinds and watches the moves. Again, and again.
The next day, he seeks a meeting with Phil to tell him that he wants the entire budget on Jordan. Phil, and many others are not too convinced. Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), Vice President, Nike, however, sees a point that Sonny is making.
That having a young hero in the making such as Jordan will take the brand much longer and make the journey memorable. And that a long-term bet, from a marketing angle, is a strategic move than expecting short term gains. Phil, on the other hand doesn’t think so. Having gone public recently, he is amid scrutiny for each of his decisions by the Board and the Investors. He would rather spread the budget over 2-3 stars, rather than having just one.
The Jordans, on the other hand have a different view altogether. They would rather go for Adidas, the tried and tested German brand, rather than choose between Converse and Nike. Nike, certainly not, prefers Michael Jordan.
Sonny tries to talk to David Falk (Chris Messina), the agent representing the Jordans and many other players. Falk feels the same as the Jordans and doesn’t even agree to arrange for a meeting between Sonny and the family.
Not the one to accept a no, Sonny drives down to meet Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis), Michael’s mother who is the actual decision maker. She is quite surprised to see Sonny at her door and is obviously not happy, though she gives him a patient ear. Sonny has to say a few things about what Adidas and Converse would pitch to them to buy Michael Jordan. And also explains why Nike would do it differently.
The Jordans go on a pitch-hearing spree and eventually arrive at the Nike HQ.
Sonny goes beyond what was rehearsed and discussed between Phil, Rob and him along with the head of design Peter Moore (Mathew Maher), who has created a brand new design of shoes for pitching to the brand ambassador.
The Jordans go back, while Sonny awaits a call from Falk. However, he gets a call from Deloris who confirms that her son would endorse Nike. But on one condition: he would get a cut on sales of the model of sneakers he would endorse. Sonny isn’t sure as it has never been done in sporting endorsement history, but Phil approves it assuming the sales would be in the range of USD 3 mn or so over the first four years.
In the first year of the endorsement, the AIR model of shoes generated USD 162 mn.
In June 2022, the entire Jordan range of sneakers made USD 5 Bn in annual sales and Michael Jordan is said to have made over USD 150 mn, 2x of his entire NBA career incomes from enodrsing Nike!
AIR is a must watch film for anyone who loves sports, brands and is in the business of consumer retail. Watch on Amazon Prime.