Commentary

Linsanity To Finsanity: Only In New York

We were among to first to note the outbreak of Linsanity -- even before a trademark application was summarily filed -- in a piece written the morning after Jeremy Lin’s second start as a New York Knickerbocker, but we may be among the last to remark on its likely demise. Is it really “Finsanity,” as the hed on a New Yorker blog post put it Tuesday?

If you’ve been off the media grid this last week, the Dolan That Be at Madison Square Garden refused to match the craftily crafted three-year “poison pill” deal the Houston Rockets offered the 25-games-as-a-starter point guard, leading to keening and lamentations among both diehard Knicks fans and the many others who, like myself, were drawn to watching a regular-season NBA game for the first time in years. Indeed, MSG Network’s ratings for Knick games went from an average of 1.83 to 4.07 after Lin’s ascension from nobody to phenom.

“After sitting there all those years and watching all that horrible basketball, we finally had such a feel-good story that felt like our own,” a Knicks season ticket-holder “who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from a management that has been notoriously contentious” tells the New York Times’ Harvey Araton. “How many times can they hurt me?”

We’ve been musing on the larger implications of Lin’s defection; toying with the unfathomable. It seems, perhaps, that something bigger may be at play, here –- namely, have the bright lights that shine on both people and organizations in the Big Apple grown dimmer.

Why else would a 23 year old embraced so widely and wildly by the city that is itself the embodiment of Image turn his back on it for a town that runs on an entirely different kind of energy? Wouldn’t having the phrase “the New York Knick’s” possessively before his name be worth a whole lot more in endorsements and exposure than Houston’s backloaded pay package?

Lin said at a press conference in Houston yesterday that he “did prefer New York,” when he first entered free agency but “by the time it came to the [Houston] offer sheet, I was just excited about both opportunities,” as David Sanchirico reports in the New York Daily News.

Replicas of Lin’s Knicks jersey have been relegated to the bargain bin at Modell’s sporting goods chain, reports the New York Times Richard Sandomir. “This could be the biggest markdown on a traded player in our 123-year history,” CEO Mitchell Modell tells him. One suspects that the retailer –- any retailer -- will not be making the same all-in wager on Lin’s Rockets apparel.

And Darin David, an account director at The Marketing Arm, tells Sandomir “that by letting Lin go -- for some rational financial reasons, to be sure -- the Knicks’ brand had been diminished just as it appeared to be on the upswing.” 

It’s no secret that the tide usually rises for an entire league when a New York team is in contention. Ratings are better, and who’s not to benefit from more aggregate eyeballs in the world of revenue sharing

Still, are those Broadway klieg lights and dazzling Times Square billboards also being drawn down by the illumination of billions of smartphones, tablets and tweets that disassemble monolithic political structures, as they did during the Arab Spring? Is this democratization of the message also relocating the nexus of buzz and cachet from places like Hollywood and New York to everywhere and anywhere in the known marketing universe? 

“Wall St.” has long been synonymous with high finance, just as “Seventh Ave.” is with fashion and “Madison Ave.” is with advertising. But the day-to-day making of money that takes place in all of these districts has been diminishing for some time, reminding me that roughly a century ago, Park Row was the media capital of the world. Today, even native New Yorkers couldn’t tell you where it is, no less what it represented.

A friend who has mid-level management responsibilities in a major bank was laid off this week from a position that is moving to the heartland. Morgan Stanley said yesterday it will be “moving people who don't need to be in New York to cheaper cities like Baltimore,” as the AP’s Christina Rexrode reports.

Indeed, the market for superstars is much broader than the hometown market nowadays, assisted not only by broadband peer-to-peer communications but also by good, old-fashioned marketing muscle.

Time’s Sean Gregory has a piece that explores the Houston Rockets’ “extensive experience marketing players to the massive, fast-growing Chinese market” since its signing of center Yao Ming a decade ago. If Lin’s game stays elevated, Gregory figures his inflated (by some accounts) salary could “pay for itself, thanks to Houston’s global branding machine.” 

But let’s face it. Had Lin done exactly what he did on the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves -- or anybody else for that matter -- we wouldn’t be having this column this morning. Lin may lose some luster. The Knicks may lose some luster. But however the story ends, its owes its origins to “Only in New York.”

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