SBD/Issue 111/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

Sponsors Cautious After Yao's Injury, No Plans To Downplay Him

Yao's Sponsors Cautious Following
Announcement Of Season-Ending Injury
Rockets C Yao Ming's corporate sponsors are "being sympathetic -- and cautious" after the announcement he will miss the rest of the regular season with a stress fracture in his foot, according to Geoffrey Fowler of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Reebok has "staked much of its aggressive push into China's giant athletic-gear market on its sponsorship" of Yao, but the company said that it is "too early to say how the news might affect its marketing plans." Fowler notes sponsors including Reebok, Coca-Cola and Visa have "paid as much as $10[M] a year to feature [Yao] as a pitchman," and Yao's face "seems to be plastered everywhere in China." Marketers said that the majority of ads featuring Yao that will air during the Beijing Olympics have "already been filmed." Yao's Chinese agent Lu Hao said that among the many calls he received after the injury was announced were "several corporate sponsors, none of whom ... indicated that they would now drop or play down [Yao]." Lu: "The partnership between the sponsors and us is based on Yao's long-term performance and its match with their brand images, rather than the Olympics only" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/28). ABC's Stephanie Sy reported in China, Yao is "larger than life, the center of the sports world, the face of the Beijing Olympics" ("World News," ABC, 2/27).

REEBOK COULD FEEL EFFECTS: CNBC's Darren Rovell wrote if the injury prevents Yao from playing in the Beijing Games, there is "no brand that will be reeling more ... than Reebok." The company recently released a signature Yao shoe, the Dragon ATR Elite II, and is "readying to release another in time for the Olympics," the Hexride. But Reebok is "only making 208 pairs for the U.S. and 2008 pairs for China." The "idea is for Yao to help the Reebok brand not only sell shoes, but sell everything else" (CNBC.com, 2/27).

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