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Far from being simply a racial icon, Jeremy Lin has an appeal unlike that of any pro athlete today: Universal relatability.
In the past two weeks, Modell’s, the sporting goods company with 150 stores across New York state, has ordered and sold out three rush shipments of $59 Jeremy Lin jerseys and $36 “Linsanity” T-shirts--with each shipment totaling around 7,000 items. Which is crazy--a quantity that they’d normally only order if the Jets or Giants were in the Super Bowl. “Our managers were telling us they were selling it right out of the boxes,” Modell’s buyer, Charles Castaneda, said of the first shipments. “Customers weren’t just taking one, they were taking 5, 10, 15.” So Modell’s went all in and ordered another 168,000 pieces of Lin merchandise. “We decided to buy all we could of what was out there and put it all on this one person,” said Castaneda. Betting the farm has paid off handsomely for Modell’s.
Few athletes possess such a polymorphous quality. And ultimately, it might make Lin more marketable than almost all of the basketball stars that have preceded him. “They say in the world of gems, the more facets the greater the design,” says Doug Scott, the CEO of Ogilvy Entertainment. “The fact that Jeremy has so many facets is a tremendous plus for him. The more relatable that he is, the better for the brand over time.”
It might be that with Jeremy Lin, the NBA--with its stagnant audience and image problems--may have found an ideal, squeaky-clean star for bringing new fans to the sport. Alex, an attorney, also stopped in to pick up gifts for his two sons, ages 11 and 13. When asked if they are basketball fans, Alex replied, “Now they are.” Alex wasn’t a huge basketball fan either, but his wife explained Lin’s Rudy-esque rise, and Alex appreciated it, especially in a market like New York where it is so tough to break through. Lin’s character only made him more appealing. “He is very humble in his interviews, puts his team first, and says all of the right things,” noted Alex.
Lin offers something that few sports stars ever manage, in the age of middle-school recruiting and 15 year olds referring to themselves in the third person: genuine surprise. Will, an accountant, knew of Lin before most. A University of Connecticut grad, Will had seen Lin stomp all over the Huskies on a number of occasions. “I didn’t know if he would be an NBA threat, but I must have underestimated him,” said Will. “He was drilling shots all over the place. It was crazy.” Will was going to a game the following week with his buddy and both were gearing up.
It’s for all those reasons that the Jeremy Lin brand might not follow the stereotypical path of shoe/sports-drink/fast-food endorsements--and the bland, ready-made image that results. To capitalize on the unique attributes of the Lin character Bible, Scott would brand him a little differently. “I would take him and go against the norm of marketing an NBA player,” says Scott, who would encourage Lin to look beyond the obvious.