CHICAGO -- 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 at the federal courtroom in Chicago on Wednesday and with Jordan looking on from a plaintiff's table, his attorney began by listing his client's accomplishments, including six NBA championships with the Bulls.
"What's Mr. Jordan's most valuable asset? It's the use of his identity," Frederick Sperling said.
Later in the day, one of the plaintiff's first witnesses -- Estee Portnoy, a marketing executive hired by Jordan -- described how her boss meticulously guards his image. She was shocked, she said, when she saw the Dominick's ad, which includes the text, "Michael Jordan ... You are a cut above."
"It compares Michael to a piece of steak," she testified.
Jordan, 52, is also on the witness list for the trial, which is expected to last about a week.
During his opening, Sperling displayed a chart with companies whose products Jordan has endorsed and how much he made from each deal. It included the $480 million from Nike from 2000 to 2012 and $14 million from Hanes underwear. Sperling added that Jordan made a total of $100 million from his identity in 2014, a decade after retiring as an NBA player.
The ad wasn't a success, with just two people redeeming the steak coupons from the now-defunct Dominick's, court documents say. 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 now.
Because, he said, "if you don't protect the use of your identity, then your value disappears."
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, he said, is that "if a thief steals something and doesn't do much with it, he doesn't have to pay much."