Jeremy Lin will have a more difficult time landing corporate sponsorships than he did the hearts of New York basketball fans.
The reaction to the Asian-American Harvard University graduate has been nicknamed Linsanity by the team and New York media. Lin, 23, took over as the New York Knicks’ starting point guard two games ago and has helped build a three-game winning streak that hasn’t produced any new deals. Marketers and Lin’s own agent say they are taking a long-term approach.
“Two games doesn’t make a trend,” Jeff Urban, former senior vice president of sports marketing for PepsiCo Inc.’s Gatorade brand, said in a telephone interview. “But when a kid can capture the imagination like he has, it’s certainly worth keeping on the radar screen.”
Lin replica jerseys and T-shirts will be on sale for the first time tonight when the Knicks host Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden. The average ticket price on SeatGeek.com, an aggregator of the online ticket resale market, is $322.33, the highest for a Knicks home game this season, spokesman Will Flaherty said in an e-mail. Ratings for Knicks games on the MSG Network are up 36 percent since Lin became a starter, the cable unit said yesterday in a statement.
The fans’ cheers of “Jer-a-mee” and shirts hand-painted with his uniform number, 17, have shown up far from the arena in Midtown Manhattan.
This week in Washington, fans were chanting for Lin, who held his own statistically against Wizards point guard John Wall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 National Basketball Association draft, where no team chose New York’s latest sports hero.
Lin has had at least 23 points and seven assists in each of his last three games, averaging 39 minutes per contest. It’s raised his season average to nine points and 3.5 assists, with average playing time of 14 minutes.
Companies will want to see how Lin performs over a full season before committing to him, said John Huizinga, whose clients include Yao Ming, now retired after an All-Star career in both China and the NBA.
“It all depends on his on-court performance,” Huizinga, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, said in a telephone interview. “He’s got a lot of possibilities, but basketball ought to be his sole focus.”
Lin broke into the Knicks’ regular player rotation three games ago and will be making his third start. Bryant, a former NBA Most Valuable Player, has won five championships with the Lakers.
Bryant, at about $25 million, is the highest-paid player in the NBA this season and he makes another $10 million a year in endorsements, according to Sports Illustrated. Lin’s $788,872 contract didn’t become guaranteed until today.
The only significant endorsement contract Lin has is with Nike Inc., a sneaker deal signed when he entered the NBA in 2010 with the Golden State Warriors, said Roger Montgomery, Lin’s agent, without giving financial terms. Lin appeared in 29 games, none as a starter, with Golden State, which released him. He signed and was cut by the Houston Rockets and played for the Dallas Mavericks on their 2010 summer league team.
The Knicks signed the 6-foot-3 guard on Dec. 27 after rookie Iman Shumpert sprained his right knee during the season-opener. He took over when Shumpert was injured against the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 4 and the Knicks haven’t lost since, with wins over the Nets, Utah Jazz and Wizards to go to 11-15 on the season. New York is also missing two all-stars -- Carmelo Anthony is out with a groin injury and Amar’e Stoudemire left the team after the death of his brother in a car crash.
Lin’s potential for endorsements is “huge,” said John Starks, who went from the Continental Basketball Association to stardom in the Knicks backcourt in the 1990s.
“Here’s a guy who has come out of nowhere to right the ship while Carmelo and Amar’e are out,” Starks, who works in community relations for the Knicks, said by telephone. “And he’s doing it in the top media market.”
Starks said Lin reminds him of Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, a two-time league Most Valuable Player. Nash, known for his passing, sent a Twitter message after Lin posted 23 points, 10 assists and four rebounds in the 107-93 win over Washington on Feb. 8. Wall had 29 points, six assists and one rebound.
“If you love sports you have to love what Jeremy Lin is doing,” Nash wrote. “Getting an opportunity and exploding.”
ESPN is hosting a viewing party for the Lakers’ game tonight in Taiwan, the homeland of Lin’s parents. His followers on Sina, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, went to 250,000 from 190,000 the week before, the NBA said in an e-mail. The league’s broadcast partners in China have added extra New York games to their schedules.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, Nash’s former coach with the Suns, says there’s no reason Lin can’t succeed in the NBA, citing court vision, speed and knowledge of the game.
“It can only get better,” he said.
Montgomery said in a telephone interview yesterday that he’s been inundated with calls and e-mails from prospective business partners. No agreements have been signed and the agent said there’s no urgency.
“It’s not like this is a puff of smoke and this is going to go away,” he said. “Jeremy can play and he’s going to be here. We’re not going to rush anything.”
Andrew Stroth, a Chicago-based sports attorney who negotiated contracts for Miami Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade, compared Lin to Chien-Ming Wang, a Taiwan native and former New York Yankees pitcher who had endorsements with U.S. and Asia-based companies.
“If the Knicks can win and he can play at a high level, he can generate significant revenue in the U.S. and out of the U.S.,” Stroth said without being specific. “The NBA, a global brand, couldn’t ask for a better story.”
Harvard and Asia
Marketers would be wise not to wait too long, says agent Bill Strickland, whose clients included Allan Houston, a former All-Star now an executive with the Knicks.
“Given the uniqueness of the circumstances from which he arises, the school and his heritage, that could generate possibilities right now,” he said via telephone. “Wait too long, and the opportunity might become too costly or you might find yourself not even being considered.”
Starks said he’s focused on tonight and the chance Bryant, a first team all-defensive player last season, will tell coach Mike Brown he wants the assignment of guarding the league’s latest headline machine.
“New York brings out the best in everybody, especially a great player like Kobe,” Starks said. “I’m excited to see how Jeremy responds.”