New Michael Jordan store ensures strong UAE legacy

Jay Asser 07:00 12/07/2016
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Jordan-only store at Dubai Mall.

It’s been 13 years since Michael Jordan last played in the NBA, but you wouldn’t know it from the omnipresence of the Jumpman logo. The iconic silhouette of Jordan rising up for a dunk is not only a mainstay in the basketball universe, but in the cultural zeitgeist.

It’s found on the feet of people young and old, male and female, basketball-lovers and fashionistas everywhere. Such is the breadth of Jordan’s appeal that Dubai, a relatively small but diverse city, now houses a store dedicated to the brand.

The emirate joined New York, Chicago and Hong Kong as the fourth city and just the second outside of the United States to feature a Jordan-only store with the opening in Dubai Mall on June 30.

A store in New York makes sense. It’s where basketball culture was cultivated and continues to resonate. Similarly, Chicago is obvious because it’s the city Jordan spent nearly his entire career, while Hong Kong in many ways is the hub of Asia.

But why choose Dubai, of all places, to open the fourth store? Oliver Pressinger, head of sales for the Jordan brand and Nike Basketball in the Middle East, explained to Sport360 ahead of the Dubai launch: “I grew up in Vienna when the Dream Team with Jordan won the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona. In Austria in 1992, basketball was nowhere. No one played, there was no culture, but you had Jordan. Through his determination, passion and love of the game, he made you want to be like Mike.”

“In the same way Dubai, out of nowhere, has come up as not only an amazing city, but the diversity of the people living here, they have an amazing passion for the product.

“We’ve been tracking it over the past few years. Whenever there’s a Jordan release, or a sneaker culture with limited shoes, we’ve seen amazing passion for the product. To create such a setting, it’s also much easier to bring this product to this region and really celebrate this product.”

Nike hopes the popularity of Basketball in UAE will increase the brand's reach

Nike hopes the popularity of Basketball in UAE will increase the brand’s reach.

Fittingly, the store is located on the ground floor of Dubai Mall, opposite the Jordan brand’s parent company, Nike. Dubail Mall is one of the largest shopping destinations in the world and the city has shown that size certainly matters, but the Jordan store is surprisingly quaint, as far as square footage is concerned.

But while space is kept to a minimum, there’s nothing minimalist about the design. Herringbone hardwood floors make up the entire store’s floor, while the ceiling is covered in lighting options. Speaking of lights, the first direction your eyes wander to when entering the store is at the back, where a centrepiece of the original Wings logo is installed on the furthermost wall.

The logo is LED backlit and designed to change colours. On one side of the store is a three metre-high LED screen showcasing the latest Jordan brand products, while the opposite wall has a digital touch screen, allowing visitors the chance to dive into the brand’s history.

As for the store’s products, there are four categories available: basketball, training, sportswear and young athletes. The performance basketball products are at the front of the store for a reason, as at the core of the Jordan brand is innovation in the sport.

Even the most hardcore of basketball players, however, will have a hard time resisting what is really the venue’s main draw – the legacy pieces and retro styles. Displayed in a glass case are six of Jordan’s most iconic models: VI, VII, VIII, XI, XII and XIII.

The significance of those six shoes is that Jordan wore each one during his six championship runs. In addition to the famed originals, the store is stocked with the “hottest” retros of the past 12 months, according to Pressinger.

These include the Jordan V Neymar collaboration, which has No23 on one side and No10 on the other, as well as the 24k gold-plated Air Jordan 1 Pinnacle. The legacy items won’t stop there though. Pressinger said the store will also feature exclusive product launches, basically bringing Jordan shoes to the emirate you won’t be able to find elsewhere.

“The community in Dubai are basketball-crazy and sneakercrazy,” Pressinger said. “What can you do for them to bring this experience to the younger generation? You and me, we maybe grew up with Michael Jordan, seen him play and idolised him.

“Most of these kids have never seen him play. They’ve seen YouTube videos, but to keep that experience alive, of course we need special product launches. They’ll be coming in a monthly cadence product-drop. We’ll let all the people know who are waiting for that stuff through social media.

“They’ll know when the release is and they’ll be outside waiting for the product.”

It’s fair to ask, however, whether Jordan’s presence in Dubai caters mostly to a niche market, rather than mainstream consumers. The brand dominates in North America with Jordan claiming 58 per cent share of the $4.2 billion U.S. basketball shoe market in 2014, according to SportScanInfo, while Nike (Jordan included), owns a 55 per cent market share among athletic footwear makers, according to NPD Group.”

“In terms of current NBA players, the footwear battle is between Nike’s LeBron James and Under Armour’s Stephen Curry, but Jordan’s sales still dwarf both. Over the years, the brand has also branched out to American football, baseball, track and field, Paralympics, NASCAR, boxing, golf and football, but remains most associated with basketball, which is far down the list of most popular sports in the UAE.”

“There is room for basketball to develop in the region though and Nike are partly banking on unlocking that potential to increase the brand’s reach. One thing we really do focus on is how do we grow that culture of sport and bring that to this region?” said Nike’s Megan Saalfeld, senior director of communications – Central, Eastern Europe & Middle East.

“If you look at some of the stuff the [Nike] teams have been doing here, it’s really interesting. Look at the popularity of running and how many people are coming out to events like ‘We Run DXB’. They also recently launched the ‘Nike Training Club’ in Arabic and seen people pick that up.”

“I think there’s really a lot of love for basketball here. I’ve been really surprised. I obviously come from the U.S. so it’s such a deeply ingrained thing, but here you really do see and feel a love for basketball that you don’t often feel on the other side of the world.”

“For us, it’s about how do we foster it, how do we give people more access to sport and how do we help grow the game?”

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