The phenomenon of undrafted Harvard grad and previous NBA benchwarmer Jeremy Lin is translating into serious money, as Knicks’ ticket prices soar and stores can’t keep up with demand for Lin jerseys and “Linsanity” merchandise.
Not long after being let go by two NBA teams (Rockets, Warriors), Lin is the biggest story in basketball. He’s led the Knicks to five straight wins, highlighted by a dominant, 38-point performance against the Lakers, all without Carmelo Anthony or Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks’ two perennial All-Stars, in the lineup. Or perhaps the Lin phenomenon has occurred partly because Anthony and Stoudemire haven’t been playing—if they were, the ball probably wouldn’t have been in Lin’s hands quite as much.
In any event, fans can’t seem to get enough of Lin and his “Lincredible” underdog success story. Since he started his magical run on February 4, Lin’s #17 jersey has been the NBA’s best seller. Yahoo! Sports also reports that since Linsanity surfaced, Knicks merchandise sales have been tops in the NBA, sports stores in midtown Manhattan have sold out multiple shipments of Lin gear, the Knicks have jacked up ticket prices by 27%, and the stock price of the team ownership (Madison Square Garden Co.) has risen 6.2%.
The teams facing Lin haven’t been the only ones caught off guard (excuse the pun) by the point guard’s amazing play. Apparel manufacturers seem unable to keep up with the surprise demand for Lin gear. The Knicks Store website currently states that it is sold out of Lin’s home and road jerseys. The NBA.com store, meanwhile, offers plenty of Stoudemire and Anthony jerseys, as well as those of former Knicks like Charles Oakley and Walt Frazier, but, at least for the time being, not the guy showing up on SportsCenter highlights every 15 minutes.
As is expected in today’s economy, though, when official methods come up short, entrepreneurs on the web fill in the gaps. A “Jeremy Lin” search at eBay yields 6,598 results, including signed playing cards, jerseys, and T-shirts. At design-your-own merchandise site Café Press, there are currently 21 different designs, including Linsanity pajamas and Linsanity iPad cases, both with Chinese lettering.
Lin’s breakout would be a great story no matter what his ethnic background, but the fact that so few NBA players look like him—his parents are from Taiwan—has boosted the Lin phenomenon to the next level, complete with bad jokes about Lin proving it’s false to assume that “Asians can’t drive.”
Speaking of Asia, that’s where Linsanity may be its most insane. Reuters and others note that the biggest market for the NBA outside North America is China. Tens of millions of Chinese fans have been watching Lin’s highlights on state-run sports channels over the past week. Especially after the retirement of China’s Yao Ming last year, Lin looks to be a crowd favorite—and a dream spokesperson for all sorts of brands and products.
He may be marketing gold, but will Lin be a Knick in the long run? The New York Post is already speculating on the likelihood that another team could scoop up Lin next summer, when he is expected to be a restricted free agent. Lin currently makes a bit over $700K—yep, apparently that’s what you get in the NBA for barely making the team and sitting on the end of the bench for months—but when he’s a free agent, some team might be willing to offer him $5 million or more to bring Linsanity to their home court. The Knicks probably wouldn’t have that sort of money to sign Lin, given the salary cap and the contracts of other players on the squad.
Wouldn’t that be most “linsane” of all: Here’s a guy who wasn’t drafted, who didn’t even receive a scholarship offer by a Division I college team, and who few NBA teams seemed to want a couple months ago. All of a sudden, he’s the talk of the NBA, and possibly could be the subject of a hot bidding war.
That’s a back story that fans—and advertising and marketing executives—just have to love.