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Monday, January 6
Updated: January 7, 3:26 PM ET
 
Coming to America soon: Yao Ming Basketball

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Get ready for virtual Yao Ming.

Yao, the 7-foot-5 Houston Rockets rookie center, on Monday signed an endorsement deal with Sorrent, a developer of interactive games for wireless devices that will make a game called Yao Ming Basketball.

It is Yao's first endorsement deal since arriving in the United States from China late last year.

"Wireless phones and wireless entertainment are very popular in China," Yao said in a company announcement. "I've always loved video games."

The colorized game is projected to cost in between $1 and $5 and will be available in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore in the coming months. There are 200 million cell phone users in China compared to approximately 120 million users in the United States.

"Given that the Chinese market is the largest in the world, it was something we wanted to focus on," said Scott Orr, Sorrent's CEO.

Orr said there is a possibility the game, a two-on-two matchup in which users will get to choose to play against or with Yao, could hit the United States later this year. Orr, who would not disclose terms of the deal, said the Rockets center will be involved in all aspects of the game's design.

Yao's representatives have been getting inundated with phone calls from companies interested in having the NBA's rookie of the year frontrunner endorse their products and services throughout the world.

Bill Sanders, director of marketing at Bill Duffy & Associates -- a partner in Team Yao -- said many more technology deals for Yao are in the works, including partnerships with a cell phone company, a cell phone service provider and Web site companies in both China and the United States.

"Yao is a real technology guy. Our promise to him was that we would reach out to high tech partners," Sanders said. "Our plan is to get all these technology partners to work together to offer consumers the complete Yao Ming tech package."

On Sunday, Yao -- who averages 13.2 points and 7.9 rebounds for Houston and is the leading vote-getter among Western Conference centers for the 2003 All-Star Game -- became the first Chinese athlete to have his number retired; his former team, the Shanghai Sharks, retired his No. 15 jersey.

Last month, students at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business presented Team Yao with a 175-page report that suggested the target audience for Yao's future marketing initiatives included the 460 million kids, parents and yuppies that live in the urban populations of China.

Yao is in his final year of a Nike shoe contract he signed while he was playing for the Sharks. He is not the first athlete to have his own game available on cell phone; wireless game publisher JAMDAT Mobile produces Tiger Woods' PGA Tour Golf.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.




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