Pop culture moments have historically proven friendly to the sneaker business.
For instance, when the 10-part docuseries “The Last Dance” debuted in April 2020 — which chronicled Michael Jordan and the 1997–98 Chicago Bulls — Jordan Brand delivered several styles over the five weeks it aired that were instant sellouts on the Nike SNKRS app.
The resale market also felt its impact. At the time, secondary market standout GOAT confirmed with FN that it experienced a 68% increase in Air Jordan sales the week the docuseries debuted. As for StockX, the marketplace stated three of the top five best-selling Jordans on the platform during the five weeks of the docuseries were released at retail from its debut to its finish.
However, industry insiders are split about if “Air” — the film that follows the game-changing partnership between MJ and Nike — could impact Air Jordan sales in the same way.
“We believe [‘Last Dance’] created a lot of buzz around the Jordan brand, helping drive strong growth for Nike coming out of 2020’s lockdowns,” said Wedbush analyst Tom Nikic in a Tuesday note to investors. “We think that ‘Air’ has the potential to generate additional buzz around the Jordan brand and keep momentum high exiting fiscal year 2023.”
For Carolyn McCall, founder and CEO of McCall Brand Advisors, the inclusion of Matt Damon (who plays famed sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro) and Ben Affleck (the film’s director, who also portrays Nike co-founder Phil Knight) could prove beneficial. And a slight surge in Jordan Brand sales, McCall believes, would be a win for Nike after its rough recent quarter.
“I think that the movie is going to get an audience that isn’t just sneakerheads,” McCall said. “I think it’s going to attract a larger audience, a wider range of generations. People are going to go see it because they want to be entertained by the two. I definitely think it is going to open up eyes to audiences.”
Also, nostalgia brought on by the film could play a factor in sales.
“Nostalgia is at the heart of Jordan Brand, but when you combine that with modern influences and fresh design perspectives, you get a truly timeless design house,” said Chris Gibbons, CEO and founder of U.K.-based sneaker marketplace Laced. “Recently, the brand is leaning on retro revivals and original colorways — delivering the likes of the recent ‘Reimagined’ series — to tap into the nostalgic craving a lot of older sneaker fans have as they long for the days of in-store releases.”
With “The Last Dance,” Gibbons said Laced saw a huge demand for different Air Jordan models — specifically Air Jordan 11s — and stated the Air Jordan 3, 4 and 6 replaced the Nike Dunk as its most desirable sneaker of 2020.
Although there hasn’t been a surge in Air Jordan interest yet, Gibbons said he expects there to be a demand specifically for retro Jordan 1 colorways — the shoe at the center of “Air” — to increase once the film gains traction. “It’s just a matter of time,” Gibbons said.
At the same time, some say the film could have little material impact on sales for the Jordan Brand.
Spurwink River consultancy agency advisor Matt Powell said Jordan Brand — and its parent company, Nike — did not experience a massive boost around “The Last Dance.” He expects a similar scenario to play out around “Air.”
“We really did not see a huge sustainable surge around ‘The Last Dance.’ Nike released a lot of shoes around the event but later they gave back those gains,” Powell said. “Nike has been leaning hard on retro Jordans for growth. I’m not sure there are more gains to be squeezed out of that franchise.”
Sneaker Politics owner Derek Curry is confident “Air” could influence sneaker sales, but the impact likely won’t be felt by retail stores like his.
“It brought more people into the sneaker world. But I think the secondary market will benefit more since we won’t have ‘Chicago’ Jordan 1s are any of the shoes in the movie sitting on our shelves,” Curry said.
Sneaker YouTuber Taja Keasal, however, disagrees.
“[‘Air’] is not rooted in the allure of Michael Jordan himself as arguably the most prolific champion in the NBA, so what he’s done in these sneakers isn’t even a footnote yet when being courted as a rookie. This movie also focuses heavily on the Air Jordan 1 as the debut shoe for him. With this reality, I can’t see it impacting Jordan sales across all models,” Keasal said.
Sneaker influencer Tamara Dhia believes the film could impact MJ’s older fans and today’s sneakerheads quite differently.
“I don’t think the sales from the film will be significant enough to make any sort of impact in the $5 billion revenue Jordan Brand brings in annually,” Dhia said. “If anything, it will open up the demographic to the older generation who was around during that time and bank on their nostalgia. They will likely walk into a retail store and not understand why they can’t just buy the same pair of Jordan 1s from the movie ‘Air’ off the wall. What I think is more likely is that younger sneakerheads who weren’t aware of the history will now start hunting down ‘85s from the secondary market to add to their collections.”
Although Jordan Brand wasn’t involved in the making of the film, insiders believe there are ways for the sneaker giant to capitalize.
“If they would retro a shoe that’s in the movie and make it seem like it’s an ‘Air’ version with packaging and small details, they would win,” Curry said.
Given the ‘Air’ storyline, which is centered on branding and banking on one athlete’s popularity, Keasal believes a good strategy for Jordan Brand to employ with the popularity of this film would be to do the same with its current athletes.
“They could utilize their current NIL athletes, such as Kiki Rice, who have a connection with the younger generation, and the newly debuted North America Women’s Collective Class of 2023 to connect with a highly sought after women’s audience,” Keasal said. “Leveraging the modern story of branding and the business of basketball beyond the court, as well as within the culture and communities, could continue the conversation.”
As for Dhia, she doesn’t think Jordan Brand necessarily needs to do anything to capitalize off the movie.
“The movie is capitalizing off Jordan and Nike,” Dhia said. “I think it would be a cool gesture to send the cast sneakers. I was at a Q&A for the film and a few of the stars — Jason Bateman, namely — admitted that he has never owned a pair of Jordans. Matt Damon might need some help, too. He showed up to do the show ‘Sneaker Shopping’ in boots. Ben Affleck, on the other hand, looks like he is building a pretty strong sneaker collection.”
“Air,” which was directed by Ben Affleck and stars Matt Damon and Viola Davis, arrives in theaters today.