The sporting world discussion in the USA the last couple of weeks has been all about basketball player, Jeremy Lin, and how he has come out of nowhere to lead his team, the New York Knicks, to 7 straight victories. Cut twice from two other NBA teams, he was pretty much the last player on the bench when injuries forced him into the starting lineup. Given the opportunity to play he’s been averaging around 25 points a game, exciting fans and has become an overnight nation-wide sensation. With a short name, “Lin”, the media has been having fun with clever headlines: Linsanity, Lincredible, Linderella, etc.
What’s made the sport even more interesting and compelling is the fact that he’s an Asian American excelling in a sport at the highest level when Asians are often a rarity at any level. Other then Yao Ming and a few other 7 Footers, there haven’t been a whole lot playing in the NBA.
As you might expect, the NBA has immediately seen the value in an unassuming Asian American star and the marketing has commenced in earnest. One analyst has even projected that if Lin continues to play well the NBA will pocket an extra 80 million dollars this year. And the marketing has become a world-wide phenomenon, with even the BBC’s World Have Your Say, discussing Linsanity.
It’s a shame that Handball doesn’t have some marketable Asian stars that they couldn’t promote the same way. Well, actually they do have (or have had) the stars that could be promotable, but failed to fully capitalize on the opportunity. Amazingly, the German Bundesliga’s all-time career scoring leader, Kyung Shin Yoon is a South Korean. In 12 seasons from 1995 to 2008, Yoon scored 2,908 total goal averaging almost 8 goals/game. This is a crazy, dare I say, “Yoonique”, anomaly in a league which is probably around 98% white European. Yet Yoon, who continues to play in South Korea, is probably less known in his native country then Lin is now after two weeks of good play.
On a smaller scale, one of Japan’s best players, Daisuke Miyazaki, played a season in Spain’s Liga Asobal. Miyazaki had a respectable season, but played in obscurity. In Japan, he’s 10 times more famous for winning a Ninja Warrior style game show 3 times.
So, I would argue that a couple of opportunities to expand the reach of the game in Asia have been missed. Yoon, who proved himself over several years, in particular, should have gotten more promotional push in his native country. Perhaps it would never have been Linsanity, but at least some sizable segment of South Korea surely would have been compelled by one of their citizen’s starring in the world’s best league.
The lesson here is that in the future there will likely be new opportunities to promote non-European stars in Professional leagues and those leagues should be ready to take advantage of the possibilities. Heck, one could go even farther and assess that they should be scouring China right now for a player that they can develop and promote. With 1.3 Billion people surely there is a Yoon like athlete that could create handball’s own version of Linsanity.
THN (23 May 2008): 2,908 Goals: The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of German Handball Heads Home and a Marketing Opportunity is Squandered: http://teamhandballnews.com/2008/05/2908-goals-the-kareem-abdul-jabbar-of-german-handball-heads-home-and-a-marketing-opportunity-is-squandered/
THN (15 Jun 2010): Daisuke Miyazaki: The Ichiro Suzuki of Handball (or maybe the Kyle Rote Jr.): http://teamhandballnews.com/2010/06/daisuke-miyazaki-the-ichiro-suzuki-of-handball-or-maybe-the-kyle-rote-jr/