Jurors at a civil trial focused on the market value of Michael Jordan’s identity handed him a major win, ordering a grocery-store chain to pay him USD 8.9 million for invoking his name in a steak ad without his permission.
The amount was close to the USD 10 million his attorneys said the one-time use of his name was worth and Jordan hugged his lawyers after the decision was read in a federal court in Chicago, where Jordan won six NBA titles with the Bulls.
“I’m so used to playing on a different court,” a visibly delighted Jordan told reporters outside the courthouse. “This shows I will protect my name to the fullest. … It’s my name and I worked hard for it … and I’m not just going to let someone take it.”
Jordan added that the case “was never about money” and that he’ll give the damages award to charities in Chicago. Stepping back into the courthouse, two jurors asked him for a photograph and he obliged by throwing his arms around them and smiling for a cellphone camera.
A judge ruled before trial that the now-defunct Dominick’s Finer Foods, which was owned by Safeway, was liable. So the sole unresolved issue was damages for the unauthorized ad in a 2009 Sports Illustrated. It congratulated Jordan on his Hall of Fame induction and included a $2-off coupon above a photo of a sizzling steak. Jurors deliberated for six hours before returning with the USD 8.9 million figure, at one point sending a note to the judge that said, “We need a calculator.”
Jordan’s fame loomed over the case, with one would-be juror struck from the jury pool during jury selection after describing Jordan as his idol. During closings earlier Friday, Jordan attorney Frederick Sperling appealed to city pride in trying to persuade jurors to side with Jordan.
“He gave us six championships,” he told jurors, Jordan sitting nearby.
Steven Mandell, the Dominick’s attorney, told jurors he was also proud of Jordan’s accomplishments in sports. But he said Jordan’s attorneys overvalued their client’s name, saying jurors should award Jordan no more than USD 126,900.
Evidence presented during trial provided a peek at Jordan’s extraordinary wealth, including the $480 million he made from Nike alone between 2000 to 2012.
Among the witnesses was Estee Portnoy, a marketing executive hired by Jordan, who said she was shocked when she saw the Dominick’s ad, which included the text, “Michael Jordan … You are a cut above.”
Asked after the jury’s decision whether he ever tried one of the steaks Dominick’s advertised, Jordan laughed and noted his own namesake steakhouse was a few blocks away.
“You can go get a steak over there,” he said.