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Why Linsanity Is Good for Small Business

Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks
Getty Images
Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks

The economic and cultural effects of Jeremy Lin's breakout performance for the New York Knicks, better known as "Linsanity," have spread far and wide this week — at home, Madison Square Garden's stock price hit an all-time high on Monday, while Lin surpassed 1 million followers on Weibo, China's micro-blogging service, on Tuesday. But the biggest winners so far, aside from Knicks fans themselves, may be sports bars across the Big Apple.

Indeed, these sports bars are hoping the first Chinese-American NBA player/Harvard economics graduate who went from crashing on his brother's sofa to outscoring Kobe Bryant ends up scoring big for them as well.

At Cafe 31 Sports Bar & Grill, right next to the Garden, partner Paul Vellios said they've put up Knicks and Lin signs — including one that says "It's A Win-Lin Combination" — and have added Lin burgers to the menu, with plans to eventually add Lin egg rolls. Vellios said he has seen the number of Asian-American customers increase substantially since Lin became a starter, as well as an "exponential" growth in business overall. Vellios believes people are drawn to Lin's "work ethic. He brought the team spirit back to the old days, where the ball is touched by everyone on the team." Linsanity, he said, is "good for the economy, the image and the spirit of the city."

Mark Collins, operating partner of Feile, around the corner from the Garden, has also added a Lin burger to his menu and a Chinese lager to his beer selection. Collins said he has "definitely seen a huge effect" since Lin started. "Customers have gotten very excited about Knicks games over the past couple of weeks. There's been a big increase in business and Knicks fans have become more vocal in the last week or two. Now they have a reason to celebrate."

After a rough and tumble year for sports bar owners, Collins said Linsanity comes at a good time, though he pointed out, "when business increases, there is no such thing as bad timing. [The lockout] was detrimental to business, but now that the Knicks are winning, as long as [Lin] keeps playing the way he's playing, it'll be a good season."

At Stout NYC, also in the Garden's shadow, manager Tara Tingquist said that besides seeing a "wider demographic" in the bar — with Harvard grads, diehard Knicks fans, tourists and new New Yorkers mingling — "the main difference [to the business] is people are staying longer. They're not just staying for the first quarter or coming before and after the games. They're staying for the whole game."

Tingquist said Stout NYC has responded by preparing the staff for crowds and discussing possible Lin-related promotions. "This is the craze of the moment," she said. "People are more enthusiastic and excited. It's a better atmosphere."

This is a particularly serendipitous time for Snap Sports Bar, which is closer to the Union Square neighborhood than it is to the Knicks home, but has a strong MSG connection nonetheless. While Time Warner and MSG are resolving a dispute that has blacked out the games for many viewers, Snap is doing a series of game-watching events directly with MSG. Between that deal and Linsanity, Snap co-owner Jordan Harris said "we've seen such a swell in business since the Jeremy Lin chaos descended upon us. Lin came out of nowhere, and he's been great for business."

Snap puts up Linsanity signs and splashes Linsanity terminology on its website to raise awareness, and runs an hour-long open bar promotion after the game if the Knicks win as well as Jeremy Lin-inspired drink specials. As Harris pointed out, "Anything Lin sells now."

Harris said Snap's founders, all Ivy League grads, are used to attracting the college educated demographic, but it is now also attracting the more casual sports fans as well as a higher percentage of Asian customers. "For the last game, a quarter of our tables were filled with Asian fans," he said.

Harris sees Linsanity as a boon to sports bars as well as to the national morale. "This is a cultural phenomenon that's larger than sports," he said. "People are connected to the underdog, and Lin represents the classic underdog story. He has won against the odds. And people in general like to be distracted from everyday life anyway. We've been in a long recession and since we opened a year and a half ago, people have really thrown themselves into games. They come to have a good time."

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