Evoke: Houston’s Marketing Masterpiece, 10 Years in the Making
Houston has waited a long time for Jeremy Lin. 10 years to be exact.
This week, Lin, arguably the most electrifying point guard in the world of basketball, will play his first game for the Houston Rockets. He’s a player that draws both extreme praise and criticism alike. But regardless of Lin’s success on the court, his arrival to the city of Houston will prove to be a long-term success from a marketing standpoint. We’ll take a look at why that is.
When the Rockets drafted Yao Ming in 2002, the city of Houston was given a new identity. Houston suddenly had something to rally around. And that something was a 7-foot-6 center with a cult following and a global reach like no other team in the NBA had.
It all made perfect sense. So much sense that the Rockets immediately rebranded themselves around their new East Asian focus. Legendary designer Eiko Ishioka, who just so happens to be Japanese, was tapped to design a logo that would appeal to Asian fans not only in North America, but especially in the Far East. With Yao’s entry to the NBA, China was set to become basketball’s biggest country. Good for Houston, right?
It was great. But then Yao retired early, his career cut short due to injuries.
Then along comes Jeremy Lin and Linsanity, perhaps one of the greatest stories in NBA history. After a fairy tale journey, the Rockets snapped him up from the New York Knicks, a team that Linsanity was supposed to be with. Instead, Lin returned to Houston, who welcomed him with open arms, while New York was left with nothing to show and PR drama to clean up after. And then it all makes sense for Houston again. And here’s why.
Rule one of brand building: a brand must stand for something. This one’s obvious right? Even so, it’s a surprise how many companies and branding professionals forget this sometimes. Every brand needs to stand for something that defines it and evokes certain emotion or opinion from within its audience. What do some of the most legendary brands stand for? Toyota represents quality and reliability in an industry of products that inevitably break at some point. Red Bull encourages extreme lifestyles even though its namesake product is a beverage. Victoria’s Secret made undergarments–the most discreet piece of clothing–a rite of passage for women. Gillette did the same thing for men and shaving.
So what personality do individual sports teams offer to differentiate themselves from one another? Ignoring statistics and standings, locales, and off-court player personalities, there is nothing special about most professional sports team brands apart from the logos and colors. Yes, winning makes a difference. But for the other 30+ organizations that don’t win the crown each year, how do they set themselves apart? Sure, there were the post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans Saints who became the miraculous nomadic team of the NFL. They represented hope, determination, and the struggles of overcoming hardship. Jordan brought a certain air (pun intended) of esteem to the city of Chicago and similarly lost it with the Wizards. But these stories are not made of organizational strategy.
Translation to Revenue
However, the Houston Rockets made a point to become the harbingers of the Asian basketball market. They recognized the growth in countries like China, where the NBA has been expanding growth of its brand, merchandise sales, and viewership. When the Rockets invested in Yao in 2002, they invested in an entirely new and nascent market. It’s no coincidence that from 2006-2009, the top ten jerseys sold in China included two Rockets players, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Only one of those players is Chinese. See where this is going?
In the 2011-12 season, Jeremy Lin’s Knicks jersey was #2 in China–and he came out of nowhere having played only a few weeks. Don’t be surprised if another Houston Rocket of non-Asian descent sells well in Asian countries. This is the Rocket’s halo effect in action.
Jersey sales and licensing deals equate to revenue for the Houston Rockets and the NBA, just like they do for any other professional sports team. What Lin brings to the table is universal appeal. His social grace has even given the China-Taiwan conversation something to smile about. America loves his Ivy-league fairy tale and Houston has a franchise player with style and grace to be proud of. And once again, America has another successful brand to export to the rest of the world. Linsanity has only just begun.
Links: Check out Jose Lopez’ Twitter for the creative work he’s doing for the Houston Rockets and Jeremy Lin’s launch: https://twitter.com/jlopezcreative