Sudden NBA stardom signals big haul for Lin
Updated: 2012-02-21 09:17
By Wang Wen (China Daily)
BEIJING - Jeremy Lin, who has rocketed to stardom in the NBA, has become a hot ticket in the sports business sector, especially in China.
New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin during an NBA game in New York. Lin's rapid rise to fame, coupled with his Harvard pedigree and Chinese heritage, are all attractive factors for sportwear brands on the Chinese mainland aiming to enter the global market. [Photo/China Daily]
The New York Knicks' new point guard went from obscurity to celebrity through seven straight wins in two weeks starting on Feb 5.
Two weeks ago, Lin was a walk-on player who could be fired at any time, but now he is "Linsanity" - with the potential to become rich.
Lin's fast journey to fame, coupled with his Harvard pedigree and Chinese heritage, are all attractive for mainland sportswear brands, which are trying to enter the global market. They're already fighting over Lin.
Xu Zhihua, chief executive officer of the Fujian province-based Peak Sport Products Co Ltd, went to the US last week and reportedly met with Lin about an endorsement contract.
Xu met Lin in New York last Thursday when Peak opened its second US store, but "I have no idea whether they talked about a contract", said Liu Xiang, director of public relations at Peak.
Liu said Peak has had its eye on Lin for two years, since he was a just a newcomer in the NBA, and the company "is interested in players with an inspiring story".
"Jeremy Lin's experience is suited to our brand," Liu said. "Both of us have a Chinese origin and work hard in the international market."
Qiaodan Sports Co Ltd, a company based in Xiamen, Fujian province, that focuses on basketball shoes and wear, is also keeping an eye on Lin.
"We will wait for (a look at) Lin's long-term performance, instead of his sudden rise, and make a decision then," said Hou Lidong, manager of public relations at Qiaodan.
Other domestic sportswear brands, including Li Ning Co Ltd and 361 Degrees International Ltd, are not talking until the contracts are signed.
However, the largest obstacle for the Chinese brands is Lin's contract with Nike Inc, which was signed in 2010. The expiry date and value of the contract haven't been disclosed.
"Nike will continue to support Jeremy Lin and supply top Nike products to him," Sun Peng, communications manager of Nike Sports (China) Co Ltd, told China Daily on Monday. He declined to comment on the stiff competition for Lin.
Adidas AG, the exclusive maker of NBA uniforms, is also trying to make a buck off Lin. Its CEO has said adidas jerseys modeled on those worn by Lin would be ready for sale in China in the next couple of days, Bloomberg News reported on Monday.
"Theoretically, Chinese brands have an opportunity to sign advertising endorsement contracts with Lin, if they pay to buy out Nike's contract," said Qiang Wei, director of the sports marketing department of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.
However, Chinese brands are just joining the crowd that's pursuing Lin, analysts said.
Lin's influence on the US basketball market is much larger than on China's market, Qiang noted.
The first beneficiary was the New York Knicks, whose ratings have jumped amid Lin's meteoric rise, and more Knicks games will be broadcast, which means more fees for the team.
Through Lin's fame, the NBA can lure back Asian viewers who stopped watching the game when Yao Ming retired.
"That (Lin's experience) can only help us in terms of lifting the game's ratings and popularity in China," David Stern, the NBA commissioner, told China Daily during a videophone conference on Feb 16.
Explosion of success
Chinese analysts said that Lin's star had risen so fast that they couldn't put an accurate commercial value on it.
"We are collecting data about Lin right now, but his explosive rise has blindsided us," Qiang said.
"Linsanity" is even manifesting itself in China's underground sportswear market, and retailers and manufacturers of the so-called shanzhai are looking forward to take their share.
Wang Ke, who runs a tiny Beijing store selling unauthorized sportswear, said requests for Lin's uniform, T-shirt and other paraphernalia have grown in recent days. The requests come from young fans, male and female alike.
"I haven't had too many consumers looking for Chinese stars' products here, since Yao Ming's early retirement. Now it seems business is bouncing back all of a sudden," said the shopkeeper.
Wang said he expected to sell at least 50 uniforms each month. "I may put up advertisements," he said.
However, his store has to rely on suppliers to feed him with new products with Lin's name on them.
Manufacturers of these bootleg products have told Wang to wait while they obtain samples of the latest Lin products from official shops in New York and Taipei. When knock-off uniforms with Lin's name and number do become available, they'll probably cost 150 yuan ($23.85) to 200 yuan in Wang's shop
Supply is also a problem for online vendors, whose businesses are much bigger than Wang's.
"Lin's uniform is already the best-seller in my online shop," said a vendor surnamed Chen, based in Guangzhou, who offers NBA players' uniforms on Taobao.com, China's largest online shopping website.
Chen got about 450 orders for Lin's uniform between Feb 11 and 5 pm on Monday. He charges 110 yuan.
Chen started to ship orders to his customers on Monday, more than one week after the orders came in, and some late buyers face another five days' wait.
Other goods from key rings to iPhone protective shells bearing Lin's image, name and number have become available as well, but the uniform is still the most popular item, according to sales volume data on Taobao.com.
Li Woke and Sun Xiaochen contributed to this story.
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