Lin Knicks Exit Would Leave Retailers With Worthless Merchandise

If the New York Knicks don’t match Houston’s contract offer to point guard Jeremy Lin, perhaps nobody would be more disappointed than Mitchell Modell, whose namesake sporting-goods retailer will have to sharply discount its 40,000 Lin team-related items in stock.

“We’re going to have crazy, crazy prices -- like $5,” Modell said in a telephone interview. T-shirts list for $24.99 on Modell’s website, with jerseys going for as much as $89.99.

The Knicks announced yesterday that they had re-acquired point guard Raymond Felton as part of a trade with Portland. Along with the team’s signing of point guard Jason Kidd earlier this month, the Felton trade makes it much less likely that New York will match Houston’s contract offer to Lin.

The Knicks have until 11:59 p.m. New York time tonight to decide whether they’ll match the three-year, $25 million contract offered by the Rockets to Lin, whose apparel is the top-selling among National Basketball Association players this year, according to Fanatics Inc., an online retailer in Jacksonville, Florida.

Merchandise related to Lin, a Harvard University graduate who is the first Taiwanese- or Chinese-American to play in the NBA, has outsold Most Valuable Player LeBron James of the Miami Heat by more than 50 percent, Anne Lacey Whitaker, a Fanatics spokeswoman, said via e-mail.

Modell said his company would wait until the morning after the deadline before altering the price of any Lin New York- related item.

Fanatics offers about 300 Lin-related items, such as T- shirts and jerseys, Whitaker said, declining to give a total number of products in stock.

“If Lin leaves, this product is going to be worth virtually nothing,” said Matt Powell, an analyst with Charlotte, North Carolina-based SportsOneSource, an analysis firm focused on the sporting-goods industry.

Brian Strong, a spokesman for Nike Inc. (NKE), whose products are endorsed by Lin, said he didn’t immediately know how much merchandise linked to the player the company had.

Price Rise

Lin’s rise to prominence last season was captured by the term “Linsanity,” which the 23-year-old point guard has moved to trademark. It also fueled a rise in ticket prices, merchandise sales and television ratings for the Knicks.

One team sponsor, the Coca-Cola (KO) Co., added advertisements in Chinese to reach the television audience in China, where the team’s games were added to the broadcast schedule amid Lin’s rise in popularity.

Lin was even credited for playing a role in helping the MSG (MSG) cable network, part of Madison Square Garden Inc., the Knicks’ parent company, settle its pricing dispute with Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC)

Season Sensation

Lin became a sensation in New York after being waived by the Golden State Warriors and Rockets, orchestrating six straight wins after injuries to other players landed him in the starting lineup. He started 25 of his 35 games, averaging 14.6 points and 6.2 assists. He had surgery in April to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and missed New York’s opening-round playoff loss to the Heat.

Some retail outlets aren’t waiting for the deadline to discount their Lin merchandise amid an ESPN report that the Knicks won’t match the offer.

At Steiner Sports, for instance, a Knicks T-shirt with Lin’s No. 17 is priced at $9.99, down from $24.99. Brett Schissler, an executive vice president at Westchester, New York- based Steiner, said the company, which focuses on autographed memorabilia, doesn’t have much Knicks-centered merchandise. Rather than have a player sign a team-related item, which could be obsolete with a trade, Steiner usually asks players to sign basketballs.

Autograph Strength

“For us, the autograph side will always be there, whether he’s in New York or Houston or San Antonio,” Schissler said via telephone. He said his company has about 150 pieces of Lin- related merchandise left, mostly basketballs.

MSG spokeswoman Stacey Escudero declined to comment when asked how much Lin-related inventory the Knicks had stockpiled and whether it would be discounted.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass said he didn’t know how much Lin New York-related merchandise the league had at its store or online shop. The league’s process, he said, is to cut prices only after a player’s move to a new team is confirmed.

NBA teams historically wait until the last minute to inform the other team whether its offer had been matched.

Of concern to the Knicks, according to former NBA executives, is the structure of the offer, which provides for a salary of almost $15 million in the third season. If the Knicks match, they’ll have about $77 million tied up in four players: Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, meaning a full roster will be far above the league’s more punitive luxury tax level.

Someone calling themself “I Am Linsane” has started an online petition urging the Knicks to retain Lin. As of 1 p.m., it had more than 5,200 signatures. Modell laughed when asked if he was among them.

“No,” he said. “But I probably should sign.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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