Doug Shabelman, whose company matches athletes with endorsements, has a piece of advice for instant Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin: Take it slow.
Not on the court, but in advertising.
"You don't want to do too much too soon," said Shabelman, the president of Burns Entertainment and Sports Marketing. "Concentrate on basketball, make sure the team wins."
At a time when media can mint celebrities almost instantly, Lin presents a welcomed problem for the Knicks, the NBA and his own management team. There are probably lots of short-term gigs available to a smiling, articulate, boy-next-door underdog who sleeps on his brother's couch. But aggressively packaging him too soon could backfire.
"He could fizzle out," Shabelman said. "You never know."
Lin, the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese or Chinese background, went from an overlooked, Harvard-educated benchwarmer to international star last week. Taking over as point guard for a lousy Knicks team, he became the first player in NBA history to collect at least 20 points and seven assists in his first four starts. He out-dueled Kobe Bryant and the Lakers Friday night and scored the winning point against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.
The Knicks have won five straight since Lin became a fixture. The best strategy Lin and his personal team can employ is to let his breakout and the team's winning become long-term, while avoiding the temptation to over-groom his image. "We've had clients where you just let them be them," said Ronn Torossian, whose 5WPR agency has represented ex-Knicks Allan Houston and Jalen Rose, and former boxing champion Roy Jones Jr. "I don't think you need to do a ton with Lin. He's authentic. He's clearly hard working."
Shabelman said Lin can begin reaping the spoils of his supernova-exploding fame on a reasonable scale. He recommended that Lin stick with the basics for now: soft drinks, snack foods, or perhaps a telecom company. Much of it will be local, but given that the locality is New York, the payoff could be huge. Sustained success will lead to more national and global endorsements.
The opportunities overseas -- especially in Asian markets -- will multiply once he's fully established. Lin's agent, Roger Montgomery, told Forbes his client already is exploring deals with Asian companies. The agent said Lin was seeking product endorsements that reflect his determination.
Lin has other factors going for him that will attract advertisers. He isn't freakishly tall (6-foot-3-inches) or imposing. "He's relatable," Torossian said. "He looks like he would be playing pickup basketball anywhere."
Branding wonks have thrown out many comparisons to Lin's ascent, now dubbed "Linsanity." They include Rudy Ruettiger, the Notre Dame walk-on who became the subject of a Hollywood movie; the archetype of the Broadway understudy who goes from nobody to headliner; and Tim Tebow, the quarterback whose late-game heroics guided the Denver Broncos to the NFL playoffs -- and who shares Lin's openly religious side.
By any reference, Lin's marketing potential is sky-high. He reportedly has a shoe contract with Nike, and other deals will likely follow. The question isn't whether Lin will get paid plenty to push product; it's whether he can do it over the long haul.
"If this guy keeps going, forget it," Torossian said. "He's a marketer's dream. He's Tiger Woods pre-scandal -- and to top it all off he's playing in the biggest media market in the world."
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