YAO MING: BASKETBALL TO BUSINESS?
Yao Ming sure has been busy since trading in his Reeboks four months ago. Since retiring, the former Houston Rockets player has already started classes at one of Shanghai’s elite business management schools in addition to his role as owner and manager of the Shanghai Sharks. Seems like China’s most recognizable athletes has been hitting the books pretty hard, as he’s already announced that he will be setting up his own business venture to cater to a growing industry in China.
So what’s the 7 ft 6 in. basketball star’s newest job? NBA Ambassador to China? His own stylish athletic sportswear line? Er, not quite. Think less sports and more along the lines of…gourmet food. That’s right ladies and gentlemen. The next time you eat out at a five-star restaurant, you may want to ask your favorite sommelier if they’re carrying the latest vintage of “Yao Ming Wine.”
Yao’s new venture is certainly daring, and he isn’t shy about letting people know about either. His new firm, Yao Family Wines, will release its inaugural batch of wine under the name “Yao Ming: A 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvingnon.” While the firm has its own winery, a report from the AFP indicated that it would also use grapes from six vineyards in the famed Napa Valley region in California. Each bottle of Yao Ming Wine will retail at 3,800 yuan–a whopping $600–as there are reportedly only 1,200 bottles in existence. But really, if you can wrangle a bottle of Yao Ming Wine for $600, consider yourself lucky. The asking bid for the first bottles of Yao Ming Wine to be auctioned off this Sunday for the Special Olympics is an astronomical 60,000 yuan or $9,421.50. Yeowch.
At 31, Yao’s personal brand is worth a reported $1 billion and while the Chinese business community might be glad to count China’s first global sports superstar among their ranks, the NBA is likely mourning behind closed doors. Or at least, they will once they manage to sort out the ongoing labor dispute currently raging between players and owners. China is currently the NBA’s second largest market with roughly 30 million viewers and a market value of $2.3 billion.
Much of that is thanks to Yao Ming, whose affability helped charm his countrymen and almost single-handedly spearheaded the NBA’s push into China. Despite playing in only 5 games last seasons due to injury, viewership across 51 networks in China jumped 11 percent while Chinese traffic to the NBA’s website skyrocketed 43 percent. Without him, the NBA could face a real uphill battle; in an online poll, 57 percent of viewers said they would no longer watch NBA games.
top photo by Keith Allison on flickr