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Retailers Upbeat About 'Linsanity'

Athletic stores are optimistic about the buzz around New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin.

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New York Knick Jeremy Lin

Photo By Chris Trotman for Getty Images

New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin has fascinated sports fans, and athletic retailers are hoping to capitalize on the “Linsanity.”

Ever since the basketball player led his team to an unexpected streak of wins, starting on Feb. 4, Lin’s jersey has been the top seller on NBAstore.com. Sportsonesource reported that sales of all NBA-licensed product were up 19 percent last week, with sales of Knicks-licensed merchandise doubling over last year.

Lin’s meteoric rise to fame has also drawn more eyes to televised games. According to the Madison Square Garden Co., Knicks games broadcasted on Feb.17 and Feb. 20 were the highest telecasted events for the MSG Network in the last 12 years. The Knicks’ average household rating also shot up 138 percent in seven of the games that Lin has been in the starting lineup, MSG reported.
 
Dick Johnson, EVP and group president of retail for New York-based Foot Locker, an official sponsor of the Knicks, said Lin’s newfound popularity can only benefit the retailer’s sales.

“[Lin] has brought a lot of energy and excitement to sports,” Johnson said. “We have a significant business in basketball, so anything that drives more excitement is good for us.”

With the Foot Locker and Footaction flagships steps away from Madison Square Garden, the executive said that the sales of NBA-licensed Lin- and Knicks-related product has also been on the upswing.

Johnson added that the buzz around Lin is hitting stores nationwide, not just regionally.

“There’s a pretty tremendous demand for all things Jeremy Lin,” he said. “Having stores next to MSG is a plus, but there are also stores on the West Coast asking when they’re going get their Linsanity T-shirts.”

Despite only being in the Knicks’ starting lineup for less than three weeks, Lin is already spurring talk about his marketing cachet in the basketball category.

“We expect good things to happen as he continues to play well,” Johnson said. “It’s gone from a local New York phenomenon to a U.S. phenomenon.”

Indianapolis-based retailer Finish Line is also in on the action. VP of footwear for the firm Jeff Morrell said the media attention has helped drive consumer awareness and will help make Lin a viable endorser to brands going forward.

“His story has many facets that would make him a potentially strong endorser,” said Morrell. “The rise from obscurity to stardom, his humble demeanor and being the NBA’s first Taiwanese-American player are all elements that add to his appeal.”

Tod Kirssin, DMM of footwear for Baltimore, MD-based DTLR, said Lin’s open association with Christianity adds to his intrigue. “One might say he is the Tim Tebow of the NBA,” Kirssin said. “This could translate well for sales in the basketball category, basketball products and other non-sports products, which would make him attractive to companies seeking endorsers.”

Indeed, the undrafted second-year pro already holds an endorsement deal with Nike, which snapped him up when he joined the NBA two years ago. Details of Lin’s footwear contract with the Beaverton, Ore.-based company are undisclosed, but there are several published reports of Lin closing in on an extension with the brand. Nike could not be reached for comment.

Keith Wan, director of sports and athlete marketing for the Leverage Agency, said playing in New York only makes his endorsement more valuable to Nike and other marketers because of the media attention he’ll get nationally and internationally.

“You’re on a global stage when you’re in New York,” Wan said. “To come out and play for a city that has a big Asian population and is the No. 1 media market is something Lin has been fortunate enough to have.”

Lin’s social media following has also grown over the past couple of weeks, increasing his marketing appeal, Wan said.

“People created the ‘Linsanity’ name for him, so he already has a built-in audience,” Wan said, adding that the player took steps to trademark the moniker last week. “I wouldn’t say that Lin’s popularity couldn’t have happened if there was no social media, but it definitely propelled it to the next level.”

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