Jeremy Lin is no longer just a basketball sensation. The New York Knicks star also has become a global business phenomenon.
Thanks to Lin's fairy tale February, ratings of Knicks television broadcasts have soared 70 percent, and the publicly traded stock of Madison Square Garden has hit a 52-week high. Lin's T-shirt is now the No. 1 seller on NBA.com, and arenas around the NBA are selling out tickets to Knicks games.
That is just the beginning. Nike will soon roll out a new promotional campaign built around Lin, industry sources say – the first of what is expected to be a parade of endorsements featuring the 23-year-old point guard.
Estimates of Lin's economic impact begin at tens of millions of dollars, and reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, especially if he continues to perform at a high level.
"This hurricane of 'Linsanity' has swept across not just the fans of the NBA, but also across the nation, and to a significant degree, it has engulfed China and parts of Asia as well," said Marc Ganis, president and founder of SportsCorp, a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm. "I don't believe we have ever seen anything like it."
The Lin legend reached a new level Tuesday night when he drained a three-point shot with less than a second to go to lift the Knicks to a come-from behind 90-87 victory over the Raptors in Toronto.
Linsanity Becoming Big Business
It was the Knicks' sixth straight victory – all led by Lin, who barely played until desperate coach Mike D'Antoni summoned him from the bench 11 days ago against the New Jersey Nets.
Lin, the first Taiwanese-American to play in the NBA, has scored more than 20 points in each of the six games he's played, including 38 against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers last Friday night. Heady stuff for a player who was not offered a scholarship coming out of high school, went undrafted after graduating from Harvard, was cut by two NBA teams and was close to being cut by the Knicks.
Lin demonstrated his business appeal Tuesday night in Toronto where the Raptors used his visit to hold an "Asian Heritage Night" and enjoyed a rare sell out.
Ganis said the NBA "will be the big winner here," estimating his success will be worth from $10 million to $20 million a year for the league.
"I assure you, there are people at Olympic Tower where the NBA is headquartered who are working day and night thinking of ways to exploit this player and the great interest in him, especially in China, and crossing their fingers hoping it doesn't end soon," he said.
The league's Asian television partners already are adding Knicks games to their broadcast schedules. Sales of NBA merchandise are likely to surge across Asia, and the league likely will pick up new sponsors, Ganis said.
Beyond the tangible value to the Knicks, the NBA, apparel manufacturers like Nike and assorted sponsors, Linsanity also means important revenue for a host of small businesses, from sporting goods stores to Chinese restaurants holding Lin viewing parties. Even companies making knockoff apparel are likely to see a windfall.
Other athletes have come out of nowhere to capture the fancy of fans, from Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych, who talked to himself on the mound, to Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But interest in Lin has exploded to greater heights, thanks to social media and his Taiwanese-American ethnicity, which has generated enormous excitement among Asian-Americans and fans across Asia. All of which makes the potential business impact that much greater.
"What we are seeing is a confluence of some extraordinary circumstances," Ganis said.
"You're seeing a player coming out of nowhere, playing at this extraordinary level for the most important basketball team in the largest media market of the world, with an ethnicity that has captured the interest of potentially a billion people in the world, at a time when the internet, social media and immediately available video allow for his performances to been seen and shared instantly around the world."