Michael Jordan's lawyer told jurors Wednesday at a civil trial over the unauthorized use of the star's name in a steak ad that the market value of Jordan's moniker to the Nike sportswear company was at least $480 million. Each commercial use of Jordan's name is worth more than $10 million, he estimated.
The price tag on Jordan's name is the central issue for jurors who will decide how much Dominick's Finer Foods should pay in damages for a 2009 Sports Illustrated ad that congratulated the basketball legend by name on his Hall of Fame induction. The ad also included a $2-off coupon above a photograph of a sizzling steak.
During opening statements Wednesday, with Jordan looking on, his attorney began by listing Jordan's many accomplishments, including six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.
"What's Mr. Jordan's most valuable asset? It's the use of his identity," Frederick Sperling said.
He displayed a list of companies whose products Jordan has endorsed and said how much he made from each deal. It included the $480 million from Nike from 2000 to 2012; and $14 million from Hanes underwear. In 2014 alone, Jordan made $100 million from his identity, Sperling said.
Court documents have conceded the steak ad wasn't a success, prompting just two people to redeem the steak coupons from the now-defunct Dominick's. In his remarks to jurors, Sperling broached the question of why Jordan would devote so much time and money to suing the grocery-store chain.
Because, he said, "if you don't protect the use of your identity, then your value disappears."
Jordan, 52, sat at the plaintiff's table, occasionally putting on eyeglasses to read. He's expected to attend each day of the trial, which scheduled to last about a week. He's also expected to testify.
Dominick's acknowledged it wasn't authorized to invoke Jordan's name, so the sole issue for jurors is how much to award Jordan in damages.
In his opening, Dominick's lawyer Steven Mandell suggested that plaintiff's attorneys overvalued Jordan's name. It might be worth $10 million in some contexts, he said, but not necessarily in a one-off ad.
"The more you use, the greater the value," he said.
Bu Sperling likened Dominick's use of Jordan's name to someone cutting into the feed of a cable company with 250 channels to watch just one channel. Then, after he's caught, he offers to pay for one channel only.
Dominick's reasoning, Jordan's lawyer said, is that "if a thief steals something and doesn't do much with it, he doesn't have to pay much."