| Yao Ming brings the Rockets huge fan interest from Asia
Houston: There’s a new set of rare treasures making up the Ming dynasty of the 21st century — unusual collectibles bearing the likeness of Chinese basketball star Yao Ming.
The seven and a half-foot giant from Shanghai has been a dream on and off the court for the Houston Rockets, who last year made Yao the first international player taken with the top pick in the National Basketball Association draft.
Yao averages 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds a game for the Rockets, off to a 4-1 start this season, and brings the Rockets huge fan interest from Asia.
“We do believe we are a global brand as a team,” said Rockets vice president of marketing Tim McDougall. “We made it a goal to do unique things. Yao has the effect of making everything we do a little bigger and go over a little better.”
The Rockets specialise in handing out unique free souvenirs to fans, usually a small item for the first 5,000 or so spectators through the gates. Premium give-aways bring an extra 1,946 fans a game, McDougall said.
Yao is the symbol for the club’s season-long marketing theme, go big, and some of the most popular give-away items feature Yao. They also bring big money re-sales in internet bidding on e-bay.
“They are listed on sale before we even get them out,” said Hai Duong, the club’s traffic coordinator. “People sell them in advance and them come and stand in line to get them.”
Yao items include a life-size poster, a small figure with a duckbill as part of a ‘celebri-duck’ series, the tallest ‘bobblehead’ figurine ever made and a giant foam replica of Yao’s face styled after foam ‘we’re number one’ hands.
“I think it’s better looking than I am,” Yao said of his foam face.
A sea of fans waved Yao’s foam image during Houston’s 96-86 triumph over Orlando here on Saturday.
Business is good. The Rockets redesigned their logo and jerseys this year. Yao’s red number 11 uniform is the club’s top seller.
“With the new logo, they have been flying off shelves,” McDougall said. “Yao is number one. With Yao, we believe we are one of the most watched teams on the planet.”
The Rockets’ creative staff has some other give-away items planned this season, adding to the Yao-mania merchandise. Get ready for Russian-style nesting dolls, three dimensional figures with Yao on the outside and other Rockets’ figurines inside, and small posable action figures inside a basketball-shaped tin.
The American merchandising push of his image is a bit of a culture shock for the Chinese goliath.
“Yao shakes his head about the premiums,” McDougall said. “We say we need to do these things and he is great about it. He’s not used to seeing this sort of thing. They don’t have so much of it in China.”
Chinese fans will have telecasts of most of the Rockets’ games live this season, even though the time difference makes Yao fans into early risers.
“Over there, the games are on in the morning. They have breakfast with Yao,” McDougall said. “Everybody who goes over there tells us about it. They have a phenomenon. People will come out, watch the game, and maybe get to work a little late, especially in Shanghai.”
Chinese visitors have come to Houston for Rockets games. Naming rights for the Rockets’ new home arena were bought by Toyota in part because of Yao’s importance to the Asian market.
“They looked at us as a global franchise,” McDougall said.