At the press release for the Shanghai Special Olympics 2007 commercial, held in Beijing at the Millennium Monument, the figure of Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming appeared. The Shanghai native, still recovering from a foot injury, is an ambassador for the Shanghai Special Olympics. He presented a pair of sports shoes to one athlete on the stage, saying with a smile, "[I] hope you run faster in them!"
It is not the first time Yao has attended a community event. The "Yao brand" has come to encompass more than Yao's skills, salary, disposition and conversational style. Yao has achieved incredible sporting and commercial success, and has an outstanding reputation both in China and around the world. People no longer regard him as simply as sportsman.
Individual and team
From the benchwarmer in 2002 who only saw a couple of seconds of play - and who managed to fall over several times on the court when he did - to the double-digit rebound scorer he is nowadays, Yao has improved his game slowly and surely, guaranteeing his reputation beyond the basketball court.
Unconcerned by fame and fortune, Yao has devoted himself to basketball.
"My parents keep the money I earn; my job is to play basketball well. If I spent all my time thinking about what I should do with my money, it would be time for me to leave the basketball court."
Yao remains modest despite his fame, and he often puts his star-struck fans at ease by joking with them.
Yao attributes his success on the basketball court to persistence. He owes his commercial success to the "Yao Team", who manages his brand image and commercial interests. It is believed that no domestic enterprises have yet adopted such an approach.
The "Yao Team" was built even before Yao entered NBA. Zhang Mingji, the head of the team, is a distant relative of Yao's. He received his MBA from the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago. The team also includes John Huizinga, a professor at the University of Chicago, Yao's agent in the US, Bill Duffy, a famous agent in the NBA, his Chinese agent, Lu Hao and lawyer, Wang Xiaopeng.
According to Zhang, the team was formed and now operates along specific structural lines - its members include public relations and media management personnel, basketball agents, prestigious professors, agents who have worked in both government and the sports industry in China, as well as a specialist in marketing NBA players. The team deals with all Yao's commercial and community concerns, making decisions on his behalf. Yao does not necessarily bother about everything, but he has the right to veto.
Business and community
The "Yao Team" is maintaining a cool and cautious attitude towards the enormously lucrative advertising campaigns that keep coming Yao's way. Yao has now been with the NBA for four seasons, but he has advertised for less than ten brands. When selecting a brand for Yao to represent, the team opts for a brand to which Yao's commitment will not affect his training or matches, and that is in line with Yao's healthy personal and public image.
The painstaking efforts of the "Yao Team" have yielded fantastic results. According to information released by the China Brand Research Institute in April this year, Yao topped the 2006 list of the Top 100 Chinese Personal Brands.
When choosing brands, the principle of the "Yao Team" is always to "put quality before quantity" - Yao may advertise for a small company but it must be an excellent one. Zhang noted that many companies both from the US and China have asked Yao to represent them, but the "Yao Team" has always stuck by its principles and proceeded according to Yao's personal interests, refusing a lot of big names in the process.
Besides shooting commercials, Yao also happily participates in activities promoting community welfare. Recently, he performed a "slam dunk" in a community welfare commercial. Instead of blocking the basketball, he blocked the bullets of animal hunters - "When you stop buying, people stop hunting".
Yao has also lent his image to the fight against SARS, the prevention of HIV/AIDS and the campaign for blood donations for the China Marrow Donor Programme (CMDP). The spiritual rewards from these kinds of activities are great, and this is the part of the Yao brand that cannot be measured by money.
Something tangible; something intangible
Zhang noted that while the public may be familiar with some of Yao's public activities, they may not be aware that Yao has made some personal financial donations. Yao explains that he hopes to lead by example. When Yao donated blood to CMDP he touched people's hearts and inspired many to do the same. In this situation, Yao is using his brand power for the good of the community, and this cannot be measured.
Yao believes that community welfare and commercials should be separated, although it is undeniable that he can do a great deal of good.
Although Yao's personal wealth is increasing with amazing speed, he has never lost his innocence. The growth of the Yao brand can be divided into two parts: the tangible part has been realized by careful and hard work while the intangible part has only been achieved through the talent, wisdom and personal attributes of Yao Ming.
By People's Daily Online