Is Jeremy Lin's Star Power, Marketability Already Fading?
And really, it's not all that surprising.
When you consider Lin's unusual reluctance to aggressively market himself, along with the fading luster of his notoriety and on-court production, a decline in his viability as a pitch-man and icon naturally follows.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before we delve into how far Lin's star has fallen, it's worth briefly noting how high it once soared.
Excepting those confined to crawlspaces or nuclear bunkers for the last 12 months, the details of Lin's rise to fame are well known.
After spending the better part of 2011 in the D-League and/or the outermost periphery of NBA relevance, Lin got a start at point guard for the shorthanded New York Knicks on Feb. 4, 2012. Less than two weeks later, Lin's mug graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The period between those two points came to be known as "Linsanity." During that stunning streak of February games, Lin hit game-winners, piled up impressive overall numbers and forged an identity as a global icon. His Knicks—and they were very much his Knicks—won seven in a row and 10 out of 13 games in the rest of February before meeting with March results that were decidedly more mixed.
But the seed had been planted.
The combination of Lin's out-of-nowhere appearance; his novelty as an Asian-American, Harvard-educated player; and his optimal media exposure as a New York Knick pushed him to never-before-seen levels of stardom at a pace that couldn't have existed before the social media age.
Twitter exploded, MSG saw an 87 percent rise in viewership during Linsanity and China and Taiwan both laid claim to Lin. On the court and in the news, the noise surrounding the young point guard was deafening.
And then, amazingly, things started to quiet down.
Lin was supposed to have unlimited marketing potential in New York. Where better to create a worldwide brand than the very center of the marketing universe?
But even when the Knicks failed to match the Houston Rockets' qualifying offer, the endorsement possibilities were supposed to be just as good when Lin joined Yao Ming's old team. The thinking was that Yao and the Rockets had already made inroads in China, which would make it uniquely easy to market Lin to fans who already loved the team.
Yet, here we are, nearly a year removed from all of the big talk of Lin's endorsement potential, and only one major brand (Volvo) has made a notable commitment to Lin. Yes, he still has his Nike deal, but he inked that as a rookie. His only other major partnership is with a memorabilia and auction company called Steiner Sports, which we're guessing you just heard about for the first time.
So unless you consider this KFC commercial a real endorsement coup, it's safe to say that Lin's potential as a marketing darling has gone almost entirely unrealized.
According to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, Lin has seen his notoriety dip in recent months. Rovell reports that the Rockets guard has declined in hazy areas such as "appeal," "aspiration" and "trust."
Obscure ads-speak aside, it's abundantly clear that Lin isn't moving goods like he did just a few months ago. His jersey was the NBA's No. 2 seller in April of 2012, but had fallen out of the top 15 by November.
Rovell attributes much of Lin's decline in popularity to a lack of exposure in Houston, thanks to a "pricing feud" that has substantially limited the number of homes in the area that can actually watch Rockets games. But that logic seems to ignore the fact that Time Warner and MSG had a similar fight during Linsanity that didn't at all affect Lin's ubiquity.
Obviously, New York is a vast market, and leaving it hurt Lin's overall exposure. But there are more meaningful explanations for Lin's failure to retain the stardom and marketability that once seemed unlimited.
The Real Reasons For Lin's Fading Notoriety
First, Lin clearly has no interest in selling out for the sake of selling out.
He told Pablo Torre of SI.com as much shortly after he learned he wouldn't be returning to the Knicks last July.
"If I really wanted to, I could have triple-digit endorsements...A year ago, I was just trying to stay alive and fight day by day, just to be on a roster. What I have now is way more than I ever would have dreamed of, and way more than I need."
Second, the novelty of Lin has worn off, and with it, much of his marketability. Think about it: we can't pay attention to anything for more than 140 characters or 30 seconds these days. Lin was the hottest story in sports for a few weeks, and then we gradually lost interest. The decline in Lin's popularity can largely be explained by our declining attention spans.
Sorry, what were we talking about again? Oh right, the reasons behind Lin's flickering stardom. Stupid attention span...
Third, Lin's play has predictably tailed off as the sample size has grown. Instead of being a galvanizing offensive force, he's now more of an inconsistent, limited role-player who still occasionally puts together a terrific stat line. There's no shame in that, but it's awfully hard to market players who aren't stars—especially when they don't seem all that interested in marketing themselves.
Where We Are Now
So Jeremy Lin didn't sustain his status as a global phenomenon.
Nobody should be crying for Lin, who is now a millionaire and still, by the way, has enough love across the globe to rank third among Western Conference guards in All-Star voting. Just by way of example, Rodney Stuckey, an Eastern Conference guard whose PER most closely matches Lin's below-average 14.06, is nowhere to be found on the ballot.
Despite a reluctance to jump at a bevy of opportunities, a regression in play and the natural dip in the attention that goes away when novelty wears off, Lin is still immensely popular—perhaps unreasonably so.
But he's not the unstoppable, superstar marketing juggernaut everyone predicted he'd be. And it seems like Lin's just fine with that.
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