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Dollars and cents of China hoops stars
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08:10, November 22, 2007

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It's no revelation that big business makes the sports world go round. The athletes we cheer for are just pieces in an economic chess game played by the suits behind the scenes, and the performances of our favorite players on and off the court translate into dollars and cents for the people in charge.

Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian were nothing short of economic godsends for their respective teams, the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks. Yao's economic influence was felt almost immediately after he burst into the NBA in 2002, snagging endorsement deals with companies as diverse as Reebok, Apple and Visa. By the end of his rookie season, Yao was making an estimated $10 million in endorsements.

Yao's marketing power has indeed reverberated throughout the Rockets' organization. Several Rockets players have signed endorsement deals with Chinese companies, including Shane Battier, who last year signed a deal with Chinese shoemaker Peak, and Steve Francis and Argentine rookie Luis Scola, both of whom recently signed endorsement deals with Anta, another Chinese shoemaker.

But it's not only the players who are receiving endorsement deals in Yao's gigantic wake. Earlier this month the Toyota Center, the Rockets' home stadium, signed a sponsorship agreement with Chinese info-tech conglomerate Founder Group, which took effect on the eve of the much-hyped showdown between Yao and Yi, an event watched by some 200 million people worldwide. It was the fifth Chinese company to sponsor the Rockets, but certainly not the last.

According to the Houston Business Journal, Bucks officials have said they are pursuing similar endorsement contracts with Chinese companies. Like Yi's basketball game, his marketing potential is enormous but remains largely untapped. At the very least, Yi has put Milwaukee - a geographical blip at best prior to the summer's NBA draft - on the map for Chinese investors.

For a business world stumbling over itself to get a piece of China's extraordinary growth, Yao and Yi are priceless commodities

Source: China Daily

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