AIR, Amazon Prime’s latest blockbuster: a story of “Key Account Management” to the tune of a few billion $

benoit lefevre Published by Benoit Lefevre – 25 May 2023

AIR is the blockbuster of the moment on Amazon Prime with the star duo Matt Damon / Ben Affleck. AIR is above all a sales story: how in 1984, the challenger Nike managed to “sign the key account” Michael Jordan under the nose of Converse and Adidas, the two behemoths of the basketball shoe at the time, for what would become one of the most lucrative contracts in the history of sport. At the helm was “Strategic Account Manager” Sonny Vaccaro, aka Matt Damon. To win the “Jordan account”, he brilliantly applied the fundamental principles of “Key Account Management” that Halifax recommend to our clients. Let’s decipher it!

Build a multi-disciplinary team with strong leadership from the Strategic Account Manager

Sonny Vaccaro leads the negotiation, but to win the contract, he does not hesitate to mobilize the different functions of the company: Rob Strasser, the Marketing Director, Howard White, a former basketball player and connoisseur of the game, and above all Peter Moore, the brilliant designer who will create the mythical “Air Jordan 1” shoe model.

The internal negotiation is difficult. Sonny Vaccaro had to convince them, often with great pain, to embark on this crazy adventure and to invest much more money than expected. But his strength of conviction allows him to successfully bring on board his “account team”. Each member brings his or her own contribution to the project and it is their complementarity that will allow the development of a revolutionary offer.

In discussions, start by relying on your allies

Before going to see the Jordan family, Sonny Vaccaro visits George Raveling, assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic basketball team and a strong influence on young Michael. He convinces this ally to plead his case to the player.

 Mickael Jordan still says that Raveling had a decisive role: “Sonny (Vaccaro) likes to take credit. But it’s not really Sonny, it’s really George Raveling. George Raveling was with me on the 1984 Olympic team. He was always trying to tell me, ‘You’ve got to go to Nike, you’ve got to go to Nike. You’ve got to try it.”

Analyze and influence the entire map of actors

The 1er contact with the player’s agent is rough, a delicious caricature of a combative buyer. He raises the stakes, openly threatening to oust Nike.

Sonny Vaccaro then decides to bypass this opponent. He learned from his ally Raveling about the strong influence of Jordan’s mother on her son. She is in fact the real decision maker. In order to meet her, he decides to play the odds by going directly to the Jordan family home.

It is this meeting with Deloris Jordan that puts Nike in the race. Following this exchange, he suffers the wrath of the agent furious to have been bypassed but in fact forced to reinstate Nike in the list of suitors.

Propose a differentiating strategic initiative

It is now a matter of convincing reluctant Michael Jordan. The proposals of Adidas and Converse are attractive but classic. With them, the player will join their prestigious stable of champions Larry Bird, Magic Johnson …

Nike is playing the differentiation card and turning the tables with a unique “strategic initiative”. At Nike, they will create special shoes that will bear the name of the player with a complete marketing focused on his person. The famous “Air Jordan” was born. Matt Damon’s “story telling” to win the decision is a model of its kind.

Involving the executive “executive sponsorship

Sonny Vaccaro involves Nike CEO Phil Knight aka Ben Affleck early on in the discussion. Even if the film gently mocks the whimsical Nike creator, he is present at every important step of the negotiation. And it is him in the final stretch who agrees to the principle of giving Michael Jordan a % of remuneration on each shoe sold, a break with the commercial practices of the market at the time that will allow “the closing of the deal”.

40 years later, Nike has sold more than 100 million pairs of shoes since its inception and “Air Jordan” broke a new record in 2022 with a turnover of more than 5 billion dollars. The film Air tells this story with humor and emotion with a delightful touch of derision. A new strategic initiative of Nike to continue to develop its major account “Air Jordan”!

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