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Financial experts disagree about whether to let Jeremy Lin leave

Jeremy Lin acknowledges the fans as he attends

Jeremy Lin acknowledges the fans as he attends the Ivy League basketball game between the Columbia Lions and the Harvard Crimson. (March 2, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Jeremy Lin story always has featured threads of basketball and business. So it is no surprise that both elements have figured in the debate about whether the Knicks should retain the restricted free agent by matching the Houston Rockets' offer.

It's a complicated subject, one on which even experts don't agree. Would letting Lin go hurt the Knicks in marketing terms?

"It's going to be nowhere near as bad as anyone might imagine,'' said Peter Shankman, a marketing consultant.

"I think from a marketing standpoint, it's a no-brainer to keep him,'' said Andre Mika, a creative marketing executive who is executive vice president of TBA Global.

No one doubts that in sports, the best advertisement is winning. But Lin's unique back story, as a Harvard-educated Asian-American picked up on waivers, drew in many previously casual (or non-existent) fans.

From April 2011 to April 2012, his replica jersey ranked second to the Bulls' Derrick Rose -- and ahead of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James -- in sales at the NBA Store in Manhattan and on

That is a powerful testament to Lin's popularity during the final three months of that period. But in dollar terms, it doesn't mean all that much to the Knicks. Revenue from the NBA's merchandise licensees is split evenly among all franchises. (Teams can profit from jerseys sold in arena stores, as any other retailer would.)

Though it is difficult to attribute ticket sales directly to Lin, he did lead a big ratings rise on MSG, and that put pressure on Time Warner to settle a carriage dispute with the network. But it is not clear how sustainable the ratings would be once the novelty wore off.

Shankman said the very nature of Linsanity limited its staying power absent a consistently elite level of play from Lin.

"He blew up way too quickly,'' Shankman said. "He did not have enough time to gain a strong enough foothold to be missed . . . From a financial standpoint, they made all the money already from him.''

Mika acknowledged that the Rockets' offer sheet -- three years for $25.1 million, including $14.9 million in the third year -- means that matching the offer and keeping Lin "makes no sense'' in normal business terms. But in multicultural New York, he said, Lin is a "great symbol'' and a player unlikely to get into off-court trouble.

"Yes, you want to win, and winning at the end is everything, but winning the right way with the right people is also a big deal,'' Mika said. "If you were to stick all the basketball stuff away, it's a marketing no-brainer. It's a gift.''

Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, said the decision is complicated by the "invader in the marketplace'' that will begin play in Brooklyn this autumn.

"Here's an advantage you had that you're letting go,'' he said. "The only thing worse would be him going to the Nets.''

Robert Boland, an associate professor of sports management at NYU, endorsed the idea of letting Lin go as both a Knicks fan and an academic.

"It is impossible to put a price tag on the good feelings Linsanity generated last year for the Knicks and for the NBA coming back from a difficult lockout and litigation,'' he said. But he added that given the financial ramifications of the deal the Rockets offered -- and the fact that the Knicks, not the league, must bear that burden -- not matching the deal would show "great restraint.''

"If the Knicks are good and really contending, then there should not be much loss at the turnstiles or in local interest,'' Boland said, "but having Lin was something of a hedge against having to consistently be atop the division or conference standings, especially out of the gate.''

Lin is guaranteed a healthy payday. But would leaving New York hurt him off the court? His current endorsement deals include Nike and Volvo, and other companies are interested.

"On some level, it probably does,'' Boland said. "Just the values of deals are higher here and the likelihood of getting a national deal in New York for Jeremy Lin is probably greater, so yeah, a little bit . . . How much of that? Probably not much.''

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