Nets Trade Opens Doors

When New Jersey acquired Yi Jianlian from Milwaukee (with Bobby Simmons) for franchise stalwart Richard Jefferson last week, the trade achieved a lot more than clear up cap space for the Lebron chase in 2010. Yi becomes the first Chinese born NBA player in the heavily Chinese populated New York City area. If Yi can deliver on the court the Nets have opened up a new “world” of business opportunities.

A team that has long struggled to sell tickets, even with playoff caliber teams, in the dark, dank, Izod Center now has an entirely new demographic to tap into. As proven by Yao, Matsui, and other prominent Asian athletes playing in major American leagues, locals of the same nationality will flock to see their fellow countryman. The Nets may also benefit from the wave of momentum built by the Olympics, where Yi will not only play but which will be held in his native China.

Along with increased attendance, the Nets have an opportunity to increase sales of corporate suites by tapping on Chinese-owned companies with New York offices. An opportunity to entertain businessmen traveling from China – the perfect selling point.

Never at a loss for marketing creativity, Brett Yorkmark, who seems to have every piece of the Izod Center and ever possible event sponsored, now has a major asset to market to a new clientele. Expect Yorkmark to leverage Yi’s presence to add major Chinese corporations into the Barclay’s Center sponsorship portfolio, quickly becoming one of the most internationally oriented sports buildings in North America.

Indirectly the Nets just added over 1 billion potential viewers without signing a TV contract. With the unprecedented exposure in China that Yi’s presence will bring, Nets mercandise sales and sponsorships in China will soar. Case in point, last year the highest selling NBA jersey in China: Tracy McGrady, Yao’s teammate. Vince Carter, Devin Harris, Brook Lopez – Hello, World!

Merchandise should pick up steam closer to home, both due to Yi’s popularity among Chinese-Americans, and the increased exposure the Nets will receive within the basketball community. Sponsorships, marketing opportunities (local and abroad), ticket sales, merchandise sales – the Nets and their players have an opportunity to significantly jolt revenue…and maybe even improve on the court.

China is clearly one of the NBA’s top initiatives. In recent years, the league hired a top executive to run NBA China and is partnering with AEG to build 12 new arenas in China. Now the Nets are deftly positioned to capitalize as the league expands the game within the world’s most populated country. When partnership opportunities arise with Chinese businesses, or a chance to play an exhibition game in the country, with Yi on the roster the Nets move to the front of the list – not a bad place to be with the potential revenue at stake.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, one small prerequisite exists. Yi needs to become a star. Averaging eight points a game coming off the bench will not cut it, he needs to elevate his game, become an All-Star. If not, he’ll go the way of Wang Zhizhi, the bally-hooed Chinese star who became the first Chinese player in the NBA. He never lived up to the hype, became an NBA journeyman, and disappeared into oblivion, never capitalizing on his on-court or off-court potential. In the next two or three seasons Yi will either go the way of Yao and star in commercials, or the way of Zhizhi and disappear. The Nets will be right there riding his coattails.

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