Is this the beginning of the end for Jordans?
OPINION: I love Jordans but there are troubling signs for the iconic sneaker.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Say it ain’t so. The most iconic sneaker of all time could be nearing the end of its long run on top. The Air Jordan has been a goliath in the sneaker world for decades, but there are signs that its grip on the culture is starting to fade. If Jordans go out of style what am I going to wear? I’ve been a Jordan 1s guy forever. I don’t even wear 4s. What is happening to the world?
I didn’t believe it when I saw The Atlantic’s essay “Air Jordan Is Finally Deflating.” I said, what are they talking about? Jordan Brand made $5 billion in 2022, a new high for the company and $6.6 billion in 2023. The Jordan brand remains a huge driver of revenue for Nike. But if you look deeper into the numbers, you’ll see the harbinger of a problem.
When the Jordan Brand says they made a certain amount, they’re talking about sales to all sorts of entities, including retailers, resellers and bots. Bots are programs that complete online sales far faster than a human ever could. The point is that some of the people who purchase sneakers from the Jordan Brand (or Nike or Adidas or any major manufacturer) are not in fact consumers. So that big sales number Jordan Brand touts isn’t a perfect way to gauge consumer demand.
Another way to look at the market is through the lens of reseller site StockX. StockX is a site where people post their sneakers and consumers are able to participate in a sort of auction for them. At StockX we truly see how much demand there is for a product because we’ll see how much people are willing to pay for it. On StockX pricing is extremely competitive and thus responsive to what the market will bear.
On StockX (and similar sites like GOAT) a lot of sneakers are sold to discerning, taste-forward consumers. There are no bots, no resellers and no retailers buying on StockX. It’s consumers who care immensely about sneakers.
A report on the resale value of Jordans in Altan Insights points out that, “The golden goose, for the moment, is in jeopardy.” In 2020, Altan explains, Jordan releases sold at a 61% premium on StockX — meaning any Jordan you wanted was going for 2/3rds more than retail, which is about $100 more. Demand was so hot that lots of people were willing to pay far more than the sneaker retailed for. Two years later, the average premium was just 23%. In 2023, Jordans were selling at a 2% discount from the retail price. (Two weeks ago, I bought a pair of Jordans on StockX for a little less than the retail price.)
That is a rapid and sharp decline in interest from a very important group of consumers. That statistic is what signals to some that the excitement over Jordans may be beginning to wane — yet another aspect of Gen X culture that Zoomers are uninterested in. No one is saying Jordans are over now but data from the resale market suggests that we could be witnessing the beginning of the end.
2020 was a high-water mark for Jordans because that’s the year the Jordan hagiography, “The Last Dance,” came out on ESPN. It sparked a massive desire for Jordans. (In 2019, the resale market was pretty cold for Jordans.) Unless Nike can plan another “The Last Dance” to again remind people that Jordan was the man, they may never again see those sorts of numbers.
The generation that watched Jordan play in real-time is old. The generation that loved him even though they only knew him from highlights is getting older. To Zoomers, Jordan is someone from long ago. Look at it this way. Jordan won his last championship in 2003. That’s over 20 years ago. Two decades before 2003, an aging, beloved superstar won his first and last ring — Julius Erving. To twentysomethings, Jordan is a historical figure the way Dr. J was to us when Jordan was on top.
At this point, there are lots of people who wear Jordans without having a specific relationship to the legend of No. 23; they just love the sneakers. Somehow, Jordans carved out a place where they could be acceptable in almost any social occasion — they’re considered far more upscale and classic than any sneaker.
But every trend dies eventually. We may look back and say after “The Last Dance,” the cult of Jordan began to die. I will continue wearing Jordans forever because I love them, and I think they feel and look authentic for someone my age. I don’t want those futuristic lookin’, moon sandals Kanye used to make. But I don’t want to wear some lesser brand. I want something classic. I love the look and the cultural meaning of Jordans. But, increasingly, I see people running around in lots of other sorts of sneakers.
Nike remains the leader in sneaker sales — and the Jordan Brand is critical to its leadership — but several other brands are growing much faster — Hoka, On, ASICS.
Nothing lasts forever. I am a Jordan loyalist, but I remember the day the shoes got banned by the NBA, the Spike Lee commercials and the way Jordan dominated the NBA. In a world where fewer and fewer people have all of that imprinted in their memory, we gotta expect even Jordans to fade away eventually.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.
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