Back when "Linsanity" first descended on New York City, the breakout star was inundated with sponsorship deals. Then, after a dispute with the Knicks management over money, Lin packed up and left the country's number one media market for Houston, Texas. Will he prove to be a good "Linvestment" even though he's no longer playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden? Volvo thinks so. This month you'll start seeing Lin's face nationally on cable and broadcast TV, especially on ESPN and programs such as Dancing with the Stars and The Mentalist.
In the new spot, titled "The Unexpected Ones," Lin pulls away from a crowd in a sleek red Volvo XC60. As all of the black limos turn left into traffic, Lin turns right onto open road, smiling in a tuxedo as says:
"No one expected me to be a starter, to hit game-winning shots. Or even play in this league. Well, I'm not here to live up to anyone else's expectations. I'm here to live up to mine."
Obviously Volvo is aiming to hit the heartstrings of people touched by Lin's story: an overlooked, barely drafted Asian-American player comes off the bench and becomes an inspiration to millions. But what about sponsors' expectations? Can Lin move from New York City, which has an Asian population of 1.1 million, to a city with only 129,098 and actually help sell a car?
The answer is: probably. And this has a lot to do with Houston's now-retired center Yao Ming. Because of Yao, the Houston Rockets still have strong relationships with Chinese companies and fans. Volvo says its contract with Lin "focuses on China, the United States and other markets in Asia." Even if Lin never achieves the same level of fame he had before, he'll still likely draw interest from companies looking to reach huge, untapped Asian markets.
Is anyone else still infatuated with Lin? Yes, Nike actually. The company that last year premiered the Air Force 1 Jeremy Lin, has teamed up with Lin's alma mater, Harvard, in a licensing deal that would have him endorsing a line of crimson red merchandise. Harvard already sells more merchandise than any other Ivy League institution, so this deal could help move the school towards the kind of merchandising revenue raked in by college sports powerhouses like Texas and Alabama.
Lin is actually such a cash cow that the Knicks might already be regretting the fact that they let him leave. Taiwanese company Maxxis Tires has reportedly ended its sponsorship deal with New York and has followed Lin to Houston. So, yes, Linsanity has left NYC, but that doesn't mean that NBA fans—and corporations—are ready to give up on him up on him.
—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him @kwagstaff.
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