His Airness still under contract with WorldCom

Thursday, April 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Michael Jordan's return to the NBA may still be uncertain, but it's a good bet his fans will see him again in advertisements for telecommunications giant WorldCom Inc.

The former NBA great and now part owner of the Washington Wizards signed a 10-year contract with Clinton-based WorldCom in December 1995.

Jordan hasn't been featured in any recent ads, but WorldCom spokeswoman Leland Prince said ``the plan is to use him more.''

At this point, WorldCom has no definite advertising campaign or schedule for Jordan, who has been in the news lately because of rumors that he may be contemplating a comeback.

Jordan told The Washington Post this week he's ''99.9 percent sure'' that he's retired for good.

Prince said WorldCom's decision to use His Airness to promote the company would have nothing to do with him dunking the ball again, but those who track the advertising industry say it certainly would make his ad pitches more valuable.

``There's star power, there are testimonials and then there's Michael Jordan,'' said Dean Mark Krugman, a professor who heads the department of advertising and public relations at the University of Georgia.

``You're looking at an icon,'' Krugman said. ``Whether he returns or not remains to be seen, but there's still tremendous news and entertainment value in this story.''

WorldCom has used the former Chicago Bulls superstar in ads where Jordan pops in on businessmen in their offices or on the golf course, selling them on the company, which provides integrated voice, Internet and data communications services worldwide.

Jordan ended his 13-year career in 1999 with five MVP awards, 10 scoring titles and unsurpassed worldwide fame.

At the time of Jordan's retirement, WorldCom chief executive Bernie Ebbers said the company anticipated his departure as a player but still considered him ``one of the ultimate business people in this country.''

Prince said Wednesday she couldn't discuss details of Jordan's contract or how he might be featured in ads.

``It depends on the specific advertising strategy, but we never preview advertising plans because we're in such a competitive category,'' she said.

Jordan makes millions of dollar annually promoting products for Nike, Gatorade and other companies, although his role has diminished since his playing days.

Still, Krugman said, Jordan remains an ideal choice for a pitchman.

``You want an endorser who has a fit with your company,'' Krugman said. ``And he's a fit with most companies because of his image.''