Over the seven-game winning streak that gave birth to Linsanity -- from Feb. 4 until the Knicks lost to the New Orleans Hornets on Feb. 17 -- stock in team owner MSG Inc. (MSG) reached a high of $33.49, up 12%. According to USA Today, MSG Network has seen ratings increase by 70% since the beginning of the Lin phenomenon. Ratings for the Knicks-Hornets game were 130% higher than for the same game last year -- and ratings drive advertising revenue. According to TiqIQ.com, the average ticket price for a Knicks game on the secondary market catapulted up 33%, from $229 to $304.
So it was just a matter of time until the marketers jumped on the ball.
On Tuesday, Spirit Airlines sent an email to customers, urging them to "Check Out Our Linsanely Low Fares!" The ad copy is thick with the inevitable Lin puns and basketball metaphors: "Just in the knick of time...Score BIG with our Linsanely low fares! Book now with slam dunk fares that will put your bench-warming days behind you!"
Cheryl Berman, former chairman of ad giant Leo Burnett and founder of the agency Unbundled, views Spirit's Lin-based strategy as necessarily fleet-footed. "If you're going to jump on his bandwagon, you've got to do it now," she said. "It's a flash-in-the-pan thing. He's kind of turned around a town and team, and you never know how long that will last. If I were putting my money on him, I'd like to bank on him now."
The Diminishing Value of Traditional Endorsements
Though blue-chip athletes have long formed brand alliances with companies for traditional advertising -- think Michael Jordan's famous Hanes commercials -- the immediacy of the Internet has changed the equation.
Plenty of companies are courting Lin for luxury endorsements -- the athlete has receive upwards of 1,000 offers, according to the New York Post -- but Berman views those alliances as much riskier propositions.
"You could sign him," she said, "but it takes X amount of time to do the contract, produce the commercial, buy the media time. If anything happened to him in the meantime, who knows? There's only so many puns, and there's only so many jokes."
In the case of Spirit, the quick-turnaround promo ads offset the risk of Lin's potentially ephemeral appeal. Call it a win-Lin situation: Spirit gets to catch the Lin wave as it is rising, while at the same time reinforcing its own identity as a nontraditional player -- rather like the Harvard-educated, Asian-American hoops star himself.
"He's 'It' now, and the puns say Spirit is part of the vernacular, that they know what's going on," Berman said. "Fans are fickle, and they're interested in what's the hottest, what's the latest."
They're also interested in the best deals. "If someone has a lower price, no one cares about Jeremy Lin," Berman said. "The Lin association will bring a little more sting in the marketplace, but airlines are no longer about mystique; they're about price."
Bringing Branding Home
Businesses, even on a local level, are hoping to profit from Lin's Midas touch. Cafe 31 Sports Bar and Grill, a basketball's throw from the Garden in Midtown Manhattan, updated its menu with a Lin burger and plans to add Lin egg rolls, according to The Huffington Post.
MickLiteSports.com, a sports-gear and collectibles e-commerce site, is offering a 20% discount for customers who use the coupon code "LINSANITY" when buying Fathead sports wall graphics.
CrockTees.com has been hawking a "Lin-sanity" T-shirt through Spreadshirt.com, and has seen its sales surge and website traffic go through the roof; page views increased 400%, and the daily conversion rate jumped 5%, according to Ad Age.
The True Beneficiary
But the one most likely to profit from all of this Linsanity is Lin himself. Not only has he signed a beefed-up endorsement deal with Nike (NKE), according to Beijing Business Today, but he also has applied to trademark the word "Linsanity." If it's approved, marketers who want to offer consumers Linsane deals will have to get permission from Lin first.
"It's not exactly a nuanced case," said Bill Samuels, a Manhattan-based lawyer at W.R. Samuels Law, specializing in intellectual property. "If you're filing for a mark that references a living individual, you need to get their permission."
Pamela M. Deese, a partner with the law firm Arent Fox, filed the application for Lin to protect his intellectual property rights. Those rights could prove important on the revenue-generating front as the punny coinage gets used on T-shirts, koozies and other merchandise.
It might take eight to 10 months before Lin receives his registration certificate for "Linsanity," Samuels says, at which point it would be illegal for others to use the term without his permission. Until then, Lin might be entitled to rights on the profits of those who appropriated his name. But given the difficulty of chasing down every last T-shirt purveyor, he'll probably focus on the bigger fish.
"It's going to be a little messy," Samuels said. "What I'd see him doing is first reaching to to some of the larger, established companies that are putting out T-shirts and sweatshirts and cutting licensing deals with everybody. As the owner of the mark, he wants to control what those products are."
In business as on the basketball court, Lin will no doubt learn that he can't control all the action.
"Of course, just with a lot of products and services, there are going to be knock-off shirts sold on Houston Street," Samuels said. "Just the sheer volume of the products with the mark is, well, Linsane."