NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Shares of athletic apparel maker Nike (NKE) have zoomed up 21% this year, and one big reason is the company's Jordan brand continues to be on fire at athletic wear retailers such as Foot Locker (FL) and Finish Line (FINL) .
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"Jordan product remains very strong in all of its components -- Jordan marquee was strong, Jordan sportswear was outstanding, and so were retros [sneakers]," said Foot Locker Executive Vice President and COO Dick Johnson on a Nov. 21 earnings call, adding that sales of basketball footwear were up by double digits in the quarter.
He said Foot Locker referred to Nike's "Big Three" Jordan brands of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James as leading the sales growth. Company execs hinted at another future sales driver in Nike-sponsored athlete Kyrie Irving, the young Cleveland Cavaliers point guard now tasked with passing the rock to LeBron James.
Meanwhile, at Finish Line, the latest read on Jordan related sales have largely mirrored Foot Locker's, except for sluggish sales in select "lifestyle" sneaker categories (lifestyle sneakers are those not specifically designed for on-the-court wearing).
"Retro Jordan (sneakers) continue to be in high demand and sold through well, as did bring-back models like True Flight," Finish Line Chairman and CEO Glenn Lyon said on a Sept. 26 earnings call. The basketball business for Finish Line is primarily comprised of the Jordan brand, representing over 50% of that business. Finish Line's same-store sales in September were up by a high-single digit percentage, with "specific strength" stemming from the release of the new Jordan retro 2014 sneaker, one meant to tap into the early versions of sneakers worn by the iconic Jordan.
Nike debuted the first pair of Jordan sneakers in the former basketball star's rookie season in 1984. The initial two models featured the "Wings" logo, essentially coining the term "Air Jordan." In 1988, with the release of the Air Jordan III, Nike created the "Jumpman" logo that is emblazoned on all of the brand's sneaker and apparel products. The success with the Chicago Bulls star's products led to the Jordan brand becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nike in 1997.
Nike is coy on the financial results for the Jordan brand, declining to comment on the matter. Sales of Jordan products are included within Nike's basketball category. In fiscal year 2014, basketball sales for Nike surged 19%, the quickest category growth rate and ahead even of the 18% increase in soccer gear thanks to World Cup demand.
For the stock to continue running hard, Jordan will likely have to stay in demand by young adults globally. This is something investors will receive fresh insight on with the release of the company's second fiscal-quarter earnings on Thursday after the close of trading.
Although Nike keeps the Jordan brand's financials close to the vest, what it's not hiding are its future plans. On Dec. 24, Nike will release three new Jordan brand basketball sneaker styles -- Jordan Melo M11, Jordan Superfly Fly 3 and Jordan CP3. All three sneaker releases are likely a preview of what is to be a wave of new Jordan product releases in 2015. "I can't tell you much more now, but I will say that the LeBron 12 is just the beginning of the revolution," proclaimed Nike CEO Mark Parker on a Sept. 25 earnings call.
The pre-Christmas Day offerings will be closely followed by a new line of sneakers and apparel for young girls, around the age of 12, hitting the market in January.