Can Michael Jordan Make NASCAR Cool?

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It has been an unusually hectic month for Paul Sparrow, NASCAR’s general manager for consumer goods. Since Michael Jordan entered the sport as a co-owner of 23XI Racing, Sparrow’s phone has been ringing and people have been asking for one thing: merch.

“I took numerous calls every day and asked myself, ‘When is the product coming? When is the product coming? “says Sparrow.

In December, 23XI finally gave fans what they wanted and announced on Twitter that it had released its first line of shirts and hoodies. Less than five minutes later, the inventory was sold out.

“The future is just incredibly bright for them,” says Sparrow, who notes that the successful merch drop was a clear indication of 23XI’s potential, not just as a racing team, but as a bigger brand as well.

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Jordan’s new initiative creates something like a perfect storm for NASCAR Merch: The guy responsible for the most popular sneaker line of all time is getting into a new business. The team added to its appeal by signing up Bubba Wallace, one of the sport’s brightest stars and currently NASCAR’s only black driver. Wallace’s social activism and support for Black Lives Matter last year made headlines across the country and earned him a whole new group of fans beyond the usual NASCAR crowd.

Bubba Wallace rocks a mask Air Jordan fans should be familiar with.

Sean Gardner

According to Sparrow, the combination of Jordan and Wallace has sparked a surge in interest in NASCAR, attracting new fans and demographics – fans who, perhaps unlike traditional NASCAR enthusiasts, “lead with fashion.” According to Sparrow, 23XI will no doubt take a fashionable approach in the coming months.

After all, car culture and style have been going hand in hand for decades and go back to Steve McQueen in the late 1960s. In modern times, motorsport fashion has grown into a niche market dominated by PUMA, which officially partnered with Formula 1 teams in the early 2000s to produce a full line of streetwear for well-known brands such as Ferrari and Mercedes, including the Speedcat Sneaker collection. PUMA’s gear is certainly popular with racing enthusiasts, but likely a foreign territory to most Jordan fans.

“None of the big sports brands were involved in motorsport, and we have always tried to do things differently,” says Anja Egger, Head of Marketing Motorsport at PUMA. “Nowadays there is a much bigger mix between the track – the design language of motorsport – that merges with streetwear. The cut lines are more fashionable, the graphics more appealing and appeal to a younger audience.

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