Why Nike Is Betting Bigger on Michael Jordan

December 23, 2015, 12:18 AM UTC
Jordan Brand Shoe Launch
NEW YORK - JANUARY 8: Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand reveal the Air Jordan 2009 to the world at press event at The Event Space on January 8, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Kelly Kline/WireImage for Bragman Nyman Cafarelli)
Photograph by Kelly Kline — WireImage/Getty Images

Nike plans to make its Jordan footwear line fly even higher by expanding it internationally and moving it into the apparel aisle. The athletic-gear maker said it hoped to position the brand for a future slam dunk after it showed strong results in the latest quarter.

In a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, Nike (NKE) said fiscal second quarter sales for the Jordan brand grew in the “strong double digits” versus the “mid single digit” growth for the Nike’s overall basketball business.

The strong quarter for Jordan helps explain why Nike executives in October set a $4.5 billion annual sales target for its Jordan product line by 2020–double where it stands today. Currently, Jordan is a mostly U.S.-centric footwear brand for males.

But Nike wants to make it appeal to both genders and also expand it internationally. It’s a strategy the company has already used in positioning its Converse brand beyond Chuck Taylor shoes to include apparel.

“The power of this brand extends far beyond the game,” Trevor Edwards, Nike’s brand president, told analysts. “This is the start of an exciting new era for Jordan.”

Outside retailers are hoping to get their own lift from the expanding Jordan brand, which first joined forces with Nike in 1984. Foot Locker’s (FL) Footaction, for example, has opened Flight 23 shops in remodeled stores to give more retail space to Jordan.

Basketball is an important category for Nike, which earlier this month signed a “lifetime” agreement with current NBA star LeBron James. That is a bet that James gear will sell strongly even after he’s no longer playing the sport.

Nike also reported better-than-expected profit growth for the second quarter, news that sent the stock to fresh all-time highs on Tuesday in after-hours trading. Futures orders, a closely watched metric that measures demand for Nike gear from December through April, were also strong.

“We see tremendous opportunity ahead as we enter an Olympic and European Championships year,” said Nike CEO Mark Parker, Fortune’s businessperson of the year.

Nike’s results were impressive across most key markets. Total revenue grew 4% to $7.7 billion, and climbed 13% excluding impacts related to the strong dollar. Some of the most impressive growth came from China, Japan, and across North America.

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