Jeremy Lin | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Lin and Dickey Use New York As A Rare Springboard…

Usually the New York athlete story ends ugly. Successful star comes to Gotham and ends his career in tatters, or leaves to find glory elsewhere. Rarely do you find someone like the New York Rangers Mark Messier, who came to Gotham to fulfill the dream of fans that had been harbored for over 50 years, and find the way to win and leave with his dignity and reputation still in tact.

This year however we had a rare incident…an athlete  who captured the brighest lights of the media and then…left after opportunities to stay…times two. Jeremy Lin and RA Dickey in 2012 were the rarest of rare. They came from nowhere almost and ascended to the highest of athletic heights on the biggest of stages, only to leave before their branding cash in was complete, Lin to Houston and now Dickey to another country, Toronto. Unfulfilled potential? Nah. For both these athletes even outside of New York, the best is probably still to come.

How could that possibly be? After all they seemed to have shunned New York to try and continue their success away from the watchful eye of Madison Avenue. Well Dickey and Lin are a rare breed. They found success, sudden success for the most part and proved they could compete in front of the eat em alive fans and media of New York and they both did it with an air of dignity and humility. They absorbed early success and continued to do well without losing their heads or sacrificing their image. They also had a unique pedigree which gave them great potential away from New York…Dickey as a journeyman turned author before his breakthrough year, a man who had tremendous respect from his peers before getting the huge 20 win Cy Young season in 2012, Lin a Harvard educated, multicultural success away from the court before he took the stage with the New York Knicks and emerged last winter. They came from almost off the radar to capture the hearts and minds of both the fan and the business community, and that success played out not just locally, but nationally.

So now thy move on, Lin drawing continued interest from global brands as he evolves his game in Houston, alongside star James Harden and in front of the fastest-growing Asian community in the United States, Dickey now north of the border in a multicultural, cosmopolitan city that is bereft of its beloved NHL and is searching for winning baseball. Neither city is second tier when it comes to business opportunities locally either, and the stories of both should continue to bode well for financial success off the field.

More importantly, both left New York and its bright lights as feel-good heroes, ones who could return for a visit through an ad campaign or social media or even community efforts.  They gave even the casual fan nothing but the best, and that best should continue to resonate into the future. It sure is an anomaly to have such an athlete arrive and eave New York once in a decade. To have it happen twice in a year, and to have those athletes not skip a beat from a business perspective is even rarer still. Lots of lessons to be learned from these two rare finds, both of whom left New York on top, and will continue to rise in markets that are more than happy to h1280-jeremy-linave them.

 

Rocketing Up The Brand

Some men are great, others have greatness thrust upon them. Or if you are Houston Rockets General Manager  Daryl Morey you are able to afford projected greatness. Lucky or shrewd or a combination of both, the Houston braintrust found themselves with not just one, but two marketing opportunities and potential stars they might not have ever predicted in Jeremy Lin and James Harden, and now have been thrust from also-rans to must-sees in the talent-laden world of the NBA’s Western Conference. They appeal to a racially diverse audience, they are of a physical size that most fans can relate to, they are amazingly fan and brand friendly and they have the potential of long-time stardom (albeit at a high price salarywise) that those pitching the Rockets brand will love.

Already the marketing machine has gone into overdrive, with beard promotions and billboards for Harden to augment the Linsanity that has already arrived in Houston. While Lin can play both to the mainstream and to the fast-growing Asian population in the city, Harden can pull in a minority community, and together they unite a basketball fan base that loves hard play and strong fundamentals, and pulls in a casual fan who will want to come to see what all the hype is about.

Now Houston at its best was a very good basketball town enveloped in football. Yao Ming helped bring the casual fans back for a while, but since his injury plagued career was cut short, the team has looked for a way to fill distressed seats without a huge amount of star power. In Lin they found one punch, albeit one whose jury is still out. In harden they delivered an Olympian and a potential All-Star who helped ignite a similar fan base in Oklahoma City. He brings a pedigree and the ability to take some of the pressure off the Lin marketing machine, and even provides some much-needed brand insurance should Lin’s star not shine as bright on the court as it will off the court. Smart promotions can now be spread amongst several players not just Lin, and the Rockets sales team can now have a reason to go back hard after subscribers who may have been on the fence, but now can have another reason to get on board with the team. They are also doing this brand building in a market where there will be scrutiny, but not the immense media pressure that can be delivered in New York or Los Angeles. It is a market where the pair and their teammates will probably given a little slack to develop, and that slack will also be invaluable to a brand on the rebound like the Rockets are.

Most importantly, the moves by Morey sent a clear message to fans and brands that ownership is willing to roll the dice for a winner, even as tough as the Western Conference is. yes some fans will show up to see the visiting stars, but now the team has two marketable names to call their own every night, and that combo means that Houston could be one of the surprise stories in the NBA not just from a results, but from a market draw this season. Harden and Lin will help re-ignite the core fans and bring in some new faces, which in a diverse city like Houston, where basketball is not always top of mind in the winter, is essential for the Rockets to be a success. Lucky and good is still the best combo, similar to what Harden and Lin can mean for hoops in Texas.

 

Rockets Should Take A Page From Brooklyn…

There is no team that pushes its brand…shamelessly, unabashedly, to those interested and disinterested…as the former New Jersey  now Brooklyn Nets. Nary a day goes by where some player, staffer, partner is not out doing something in the community, or the team is touting its latest innovations. New players in town? Go to the Yankees for a night of brand building. 95 degrees on a summer Friday? Hold a block party. Jay Z not coming, make people think he is. Every time the cash register ticks with a jersey sale or a new season sub, tell the world. Maybe sometimes its white noise, or in the case of the teams new “colors” (eventhough white and black are the lack of color not colors themselves) black and white noise in the hopes that someone will hear it. As the late Ted Williams said, if you keep swinging eventually you will hit something.

So now we have Jeremy Lin in Houston, a brand and an athlete cultivated not in the hinterlands and going to Broadway’s bright lights, but one nurtured in Gotham and now heading away to a team that needs to fill seats now and compete for global brand dollars again, as they did in their short and sweet run with Yao Ming. What to do? Take a page from the Nets. Go wall to wall with Lin as leverage not just for himself but for all those around him who can use the boost to boost the brand.

Whether the guard from Harvard can be healthy and play a full slate at a high level is now irrelevant to those selling the Rockets. As a matter of fact, what’s only relevant is he is theirs and he won’t suit up til October. So the selling season is now til then, because after that, who knows? For the team it’s also not just about Jeremy Lin…it is a chance to re-expose their diverse and savvy GM Daryl Morey and it is a chance to have Lin help put his teammates on a higher platform. How? By association with the man in the limelight. Jeremy Lin has the media leverage in one of the world’s greatest team sports, so pulling his mates in with him, mentioning, highlighting, posing with them, lifts the team and the brand. It also promotes a heck of a lot good will for a guy who whispers have said (probably wrongly) the guy has gotten a big head. Yes pushing the Rockets is about their new savior, but using that savior to push through all the teams initiatives…constantly and loudly to a global audience…has never had more of a chance. Cause marketing? Jeremy and the kids of Houston…with a teammate. New sponsor…yes J Lin but also another guy, pick one. He is a point guard, he makes the team better, by rule. Now he has the leverage to make his guys better as brands as well, all by association.

So don’t be quiet Rockets, use the window to grab the sales and promote your guys. Follow the Nets rule, don’t be shy and scream loudly…some obvious folks will hear you, but probably some unexpected ones will too. That’s the best way to grow the team brand. 

Still The Best Ahead For Lin, Dickey

Last year if you said to a sports marketer the names “Lin Dickey” he or she may have thought you were talking about the former NFL quarterback Lynn Dickey and maybe some kind of retro fantasy camp idea for old Packers or Houston Oilers. Today, especially in the mega-market of New York, the names Lin…as in Jeremy and Dickey…as in R.A. could represent some of the biggest potential in the coming year, should both continue their improbable  rises in their field of play. Are they similar? Yes in many ways. Are they different things do different brands? For sure. Together have they, along perhaps with Victor Cruz of the New York Giants, represent a refreshing “everyman” story that comes along once in a while, but rarely in a major market like New York in the same year.

This past week was a another landmark one for both Lin and Dickey. Lin announced a representation deal with the firm of Williams and Connolly and then his current team, the New York Knicks, got a bump when an aribitrator ruled in their on a major salary cap issue that will effect Lin’s signing potential. Dickey and his back to back one hitters regardless of his outcome Sunday against the Yankees, has made him the summer toast of The Big Apple.  Together, they share the common man story…one a bit of an overnight sensation, one an overnight sensation many years in the making…but both with a quiet casual appeal and the ability to fit into a list of brand campaigns, from education and charity programs to major endorsement deals. One, Lin, has a huge Asian market at his fingertips…brands looking to leverage an Asian American high profile athlete both in the U.S. and abroad. The other, Dickey, sits on the verge of an All-Star appearance and has a down home appeal, not to mention an Olympic pedigree, that plays not just to Madison Avenue but to Main Street USA as well.

Now in sports marketing nothing is a sure thing. Witness all the brands that invested in the potential Olympic value of Americans Shawn Johnson and Bryan Clay prior to them making their respective teams heading for London, with neither now going to the game (Johnson due to injury, Clay did not make the Olympic decathlon team this past weekend). Lin is also working to get back following his season-ending knee injury, while Dickey, a 37 year old knuckleballer, could lose the edge he has this year and send him back to journeyman status (although that seems unlikely at this point). Even with the risk, thus far the pedigree of both athletes to come across as respectful, savvy and genuine in grasping their fame appears to be very strong. We love a comeback and an underdog story in this country, and “Linn Dickey” appears to have given us not one, but two, to follow through the summer and into the fall.

The most interesting thing will be which brands they chose and how the plans will play out over the coming months. Dickey is in the midst of a grueling season with the regular demands on MLB players, while Lin is out of the limelight training in California, before a trip to Asia this summer. Picking the right partners to activate with, even maybe with less dollar and more legacy, will be key for both. Their everyday appeal is key, so matching that appeal with the right companies can extend their legacy almost regardless of long-term results.

Heck, maybe somewhere even that former NFL QB, with a little of both their names, is also smiling and looking to cash in.

Both have caught lightning in a bottle in Gotham, and we are all enjoying the ride.

Little Brands Get A Chance To March Too…

One of the more entreprenurial hustles in sport branding is finding ways to creatively capture lightning in a bottle, a few minutes of exposure as a result of timing, luck and smart thinking. Such is the case with people who were able to cash in short term on the Jeremy Lin craze, with websites, bootleg t-shirts and other offers to a public that could not get enough of the Knicks sudden star. In racing, brands may take advantage of last minute dormant advertising spots with a driver to make a quick splash when they could not afford a full season ride, hoping to capitalize on the fortunes of an under-performing driver, or one who may even end up in a tangle on the race course that gets their brand splashed all over the cameras following along. In individual sports like tennis or golf, small brands troll the matchups and the draw sheet, looking to make a quick sale on a patch or a hat for an athlete suddenly paired with a superstar in a foursome, or facing a large name in the early rounds of a nationally televised tennis match. Boxing and MMA present their own canvas, literally the body, where ads can be dropped for many brands who have no shot at spending the big time activation dollars for a full UFC sponsorship. In team sports, sometimes a brand can grab the limelight with a hat or teeshirt deal with an athlete before they break through, getting a sudden star like a Tim Tebow to endorse the brand on national postgame or practice coverage. While the onfield rogue brand would be policed out by a league, the open area of the lockerroom still presents interesting opportunities.

So now we enter the unltimate David vs. Goliath matchup, the NCAA Tournament. Can a little brand find a way through the clutter and the battle of household names to make a big splash? While the pristine area around the court and the postgame pressers make a one-off splash almost impossible, there will be some new names that shine through, and they will come in the form of apparel or sneaker brands that have taken a longer term gamble on some schools to engage over the period of a season. Many times these brands are willing to go a little further with smaller schools to provide some additional dollars or support, or will look to service not just a men’s hoops team but other parts of the athletic department. For schools scratching for cash, and with the major apparel companies like Nike and Reebok and adidas concentrating on larger schools with high exposure, an enterprising start up can break through if Cinderella comes dancing. Brands like And One, The Rock, and Crons, even Under Armour as it made its way into college hoops from football, found schools that peaked at the right time, and gave their smaller brands some solid exposure during the first few days of the tournament, both in game and in the exposure of a heavy media environment. A first round win grows the exposure exponentially, and can position the brand for growth that was worth the gamble. Now such a stance is always risky…teams can falter in a conference tournament and blew the investment the brand has made, consistent success makes the school vulnerable to a more lucrative offer from a major brand to switch and close out that market, and coaches at smaller schools who are successful can move to a larger school and not take the supportive brand along for the ride, but in many cases the risk and the gratification for those smaller brands is worth the reward. The window for such brands is very, very narrow. Student-athletes cannot endorse a smaller brand themselves like a pro athlete could, and coaches are limited in what they can wear and display in public settings, so walking into a press conference with a can of Minster Energy Drink will quickly be swept away. There is no patch a supplement company can slap on a coaching jacket either. None would make it to the stage.

So as the first round unfolds next week and teams are awash in bright new neon yellow (Baylor) and hot red (Louisville), look for the little brands that may pop through. There may not be many but they are worth noting for their entreprenurial spirit and perserverence, just like the upstart teams they are probably working with.

MSG Makes Right Move Jumping On Linsanity Now…

It is one of the busiest weeks at the semi-refurbished Madison Square Garden. Hockey led to Gymnastics which led to hockey which led to tennis which led to a week of Big East and the Knicks and then the WWE, all in a nine day stretch. However while the Knicks and Rangers are away, the sales folks are busy, rightfully so, pushing the Linsanity angle if the bubble bursts.

Make no mistake about it, Jeremy Lin, if he does nothing else, has already saved the Knicks season. Even with many subpar opponents, he helped lead them to wins they would probably not have gotten, and bridged a return to get Baron Davis healthy and Carmelo Anthony back in the lineup that gave New York a chance to be competitive the rest of the winter and into the spring. Without him, the Knicks are lottery fodder, probably with a new coach at this point.

So while his agent talks about looking at long term deals and thousands of offers, the Knicks have moved very quickly to maximize sales efforts, which is the smartest of moves in a league where every day weaknesses can be exploited and good teams adjust to the new, previously unknown star. As fast as Jeremy Lin’s star rose, a few weeks of lackluster play and losses could return him to earth, and Linsanity could fade into a deep afterthought. So while his agent looks for long term plans, the Knicks went out and became all things Korean…nailing a new tire sponsor, Maxxis International, selling ads on radio for Korean tourism and reaching out like never before to the Asian community for ticket sales, sponsored viewing parties and apparel sales. The targeting is smart for New York…whether it translates into more people flying to Korea for a spring vacation or buying Maxxis vs. the more popular and better leveraged Hankook brand remains to be seen. The association to the Knicks is great, but the picture won’t be complete until Lin and his popularity also chooses some partners to leverage with. The ethnic spend is much more about Lin than the Knicks for a Korean community…they like the Knicks, but they love their guy…so until he joins a brand the spend is very much a hedge.

For the Knicks, the short term value of Lin will turn into long term gain as well. This week they announced ticket increases for next year that will go into effect despite the fact that the team is still not assured a playoff spot with a tough schedule ahead of them. They struck while the iron is hot, knowing that a turned ankle of their new face can turn the fickle fortunes of New York very quickly, especially with the Yankees now revving their marketing engines as well.

Gotham is all about today, and today Jeremy Lin and the Knicks remain hot. Savvy move to grab all the dollars today Knickerbockers, one never knows what the future holds.

POTUS Starts To Play The Sports Card…

It is almost time for President Obama to start ramping up the engines for the run to November. As the Republicans twist back and forth between Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and other challengers, the Democrats have stood on the sidelines waiting their turn to start moving against whomever is on the other side.

This week there were two interesting little events that may have shown that things are starting to accelerate with the casual voter. First came the announcement that the NFL would play its first-ever Wednesday night game to open the season in September. The reason? that first Thursday in November will be The President’s acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination, and neither side wanted a conflict, especially for a leader who has been such a friend of the game. The second, on Thursday came Bill Simmons sitdown for his podcast with President Obama. Now it’s not really clear what is more significant, that the interviewed showed that podcasts themselves are powerful tools now more accepted by the media and the general public, or that ESPN could get a place at the table with the leader of the free world that many news and political networks couldn’t get. However one thing is clear. The President’s team is again going to play the sports card it used so effectively to engage the casual fan come election time. It worked four years ago, and it will help again this time.

Four years ago in January, Sports Illustrated ran a back of the book story by Scott Price, who had the chance to play then-candidate Barack Obama in a game of basketball. The story showed casual sports fans, who many times are also politics averse, a side of the candidate that they did not know about. That story of course was the first of many where sports and now-President Obama crossed paths on his way to the White House. While it probably pales in comparison to all the other initiatives the Obama camp used for engaging casual voters (social media being one of the biggest), the ability for the candidate at the time to show that he could relate to the casual sports fan was very important. Did it sway the election the following November? Maybe not with huge numbers, but it is hard to think that a President who could make a jump shot (and who had a brother in law in Craig Robinson who is and was a coach) did not at least influence some people to cast a ballot. The other candidates made the odd NASCAR appearance, Senator McCain went on a few hunting trips, but none embraced a sports fan like President Obama did.

This time around we are starting to see the same thing. Governor Romney visits Daytona and looks uncomfortable in interviews, candidates Santorum and Gingrich have not gone the sports route. So the door is open again for the President.

The candidate who is able to court those casual fans in the past few elections did get a nice little boost, and maybe more of a second look when controversy reared its head at least the first time. President Bush was a former Rangers owner, and was able to find home plate more than a few times with a first pitch. President Clinton whooped it up with Arkansas at the Final Four and loved being around athletes. President Obama rarely passes a basketball court without taking a look at the rim. It made sports a talking point when there was not one to engage people, and made them all seem just a little more human, and a little less lofty.

So here we go again. The sports world was abuzz with talk of BCS, MLB playoffs and Jeremy Lin and it was all tied to an ESPN podcast. The spokesperson was not Mike Greenberg, it was Barack Obama, only a few days before Super Tuesday. That type of grassroots appeal will once again give POTUS more street cred, especially if things get tight come Election Day.

A Week of Dogs and ‘Trotters

Say what you want about Jeremy Lin controlling New York, this week could belong to celebrities big and small, that have little to do with the orange and blue. Two New York area institutions at this time of year, both strong global brands, will look to capture their own slice of the marketplace. The first is the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the annual parade of pooches that takes over Madison Square Garden for two days. The Dog Show has always had its own cache in New York, full crowds and unique characters, but now major brands like Subaru have found ways through the viral and the digital world to work with the NBC family of stations to extend the tie between man and dog well beyond those in attendance.

The Dog Show appeals to almost every demo, and pulls in ratings on USA Network that bring in solid ad dollars in the most challenging of times. Now with the advent of the Puppy Bowl as a lead-up during Super Bowl week, companies realize that the show is about the people and the personalities as much as the dogs and have found ways to draw a larger ROI during the few days with consumer brands that appeal to emotion, not just to pet products. Sure there are lots of grooming and health products for dog lovers, but now those who just like to watch from afar get to participate with cars and consumer goods who may not have looked at the show as an activation point before. NBC has found a niche to grow dog and cat shows in recent years, drawing decent numbers on other events around holidays when people are switching channels and may not have a specific interest in traditional sports. However the Dog Show remains the Indy 500 or Super Bowl of pet events, and that was made even more clearer not just on a local level, but on an international level with the way that social and traditional media have flocked to embrace the event this week like none other.

Then we have the Globetrotters. Always looking for a new angle, the traveling troup this year decided they needed a big change to embrace fans. The result is Paul “Tiny” Sturgess, who at 7 feet 8 inches is the world’s tallest professional basketball player. As if that wasn’t enough, the Globies also have paired the British-born Joining Sturgess with Jonte “Too Tall” Hall, the shortest player in Globetrotters history at 5-2. Naturally, he will be known as Too Tall. Whether or not the pair can play that well is not that relevant. What is relevant is the way the team and their brand continues to annually re-invent themselves in a way to have families continue to come back and experience the show in an era when such “traditional” annuals like the circus and the ice shows are doing a slow dive. It is not fast paced digital over the top instant action. It is traditional and always served up at the same time of year in the New York area, this time with a little more size to add to the show, one that is all about sight gags and less about athleticism than it used to be. The Globetrotter brand remains strong around the world, albeit with a little polish added on every year.

Like the Dog Show, the Globies are throw back entertainment in a digital world. Maybe they are not for everyone, but by continuing to find new wrinkles in an old formula, both seem to be working and finding ways to draw attention in a crowded marketplace set all atwitter by the latest Knicks star and the Super Bowl champion Giants.

Can Jeremy And Victor Take NY?

It has been yet another interesting week in the crucible of sport. While the New York Giants were celebrating their Super Bowl victory in the Canyon of Heroes, the hobbled New York Knicks had caught fire against some lesser opponents and an unlikely new star. Out of both have come some interesting marketing opportunities for a pair of ethnically diverse stars who appeal directly to the new breed of fans that the NFL and the NBA are looking to capture.

On the Giants side there is wide receiver Victor Cruz, rising from the streets of Patterson, New Jersey, undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts, almost cut in the preseason last year, and now fully emerged as the ultimate success story in the NFL, catching ball after ball from Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. He speaks English and Spanish fluently, has a humble charm about him, can dance (we have all seen his salsa moves) and has already proven over the course of the season that his skills on the field match his marketing appeal off the field for the NFL Champions.

Then we have Jeremy Lin, who started his improbable run to success in a Knicks win over the Nets last weekend, and has followed that up with one impressive game after the next this past week, leading into Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He is quiet, Asian-American, Harvard educated and has already shown leadership skills as a point guard that the Knicks had been lacking to that point, despite the presence of superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. His unusual background and his unlikely and meteoric rise to the limelight at Madison Square Garden has created a Tebow-like fervor in just a week, and his presence not just with an Asian background, but with an Asian American background, makes for very intriguing possibilities for the NBA as they continue to court that growing fan base and demo.

There are as many similarities as there are differences between the brands for Cruz and Lin. They have both arisen as undrafted surprises and have let their on-field success do the talking first. The fit the new mosaic of American society and are playing in the world’s largest media market. Their skills and size are not overstated and they appeal to the average and casual fan. They have not picked up any controversy and they have made their teams better and more fun thus far. The differences? Cruz really has proven over time that he can be a successful NFL commodity. He has stayed healthy and has responded to big time pressure on the biggest of national stages. Lin’s success has been short term thus far, against opponents that may not have had time to adjust to his rile with the Knicks or have taken him lightly, and the Knicks haven’t won a playoff game since 2000.

Still even with the differences, if Lin can continue to play well and the Knicks can win consistently, the branding opportunities are strong, both individually, and maybe for one or two companies, together. Could there be a company that wants to reach the Hispanic and Asian communities together in Gotham? maybe a telco or a bank that has regional interest and may want to grow. While there are big marketing stars for both the Giants and the Knicks clamoring for big dollars, the presence of Cruz and Lin present another glimpse of opportunity in the two biggest areas for growth in the U.S. for professional sport, Asian American and Hispanic. Success breeds opportunity, and the opportunity for Jeremy Lin and Victor Cruz may be here.