Can Ichiro Suzuki Become New York's Jeremy Lin Replacement?

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on July 24 2012 5:27 PM
Hernandez and Ichiro joins All Stars, Bautista leads new era of players
Mariners Suzuki takes his lead off second base during their MLB American League baseball game against the Rangers in Seattle Reuters

The New York Yankees' trade for 10-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki should help baseball's most popular team both on and off the field.

Ichiro's production has dropped off steadily this season -- he is batting just .261 despite a career .322 average -- but he still represents a huge draw around the world. He is incredibly popular among his native country Japan and had a direct impact in Seattle's tourism business during his successful career with the Mariners.

He might not have the same impact on New York's tourism -- it is already the most visited city in the United States -- but it could allow the Yankees to tap back into Japanese partnerships the team had when Hideki Matsui played, according to one expert.

I think there was a lot of groundwork laid by Matsui bringing Japanese athletes front and central, said Joe Favorito, a sports marketing expert and Columbia University lecturer. From a baseball figure, having another iconic player, is a tremendous boost, for the Yankees.

Matsui brought incredible Japanese interest to the Yankees, including a traveling 40-person Japanese press core, but New York let him leave via free agency after he helped them win the 2009 World Series. Matsui is known for being friendlier and more willing to talk to the press than Ichiro, according to a 2009 Washington Post story, but that shouldn't stop either Ichiro or the Yankees from trying to capitalize on his popularity.

He's never been a public face -- he's about baseball, Favorito said. I don't think that will change, but even if it's a short-term fix, it will attract more interest to baseball and the Yankees.

If he wants (endorsements) he certainly could get them. There are brands that will come calling in the short window that he's in New York.

The timing of Ichiro's arrival could also help alleviate disappointment in the New York Knicks' decision to let Jeremy Lin leave the Big Apple. Lin, the first Taiwanese-American to play in the NBA, was incredibly popular in New York, which has a large Asian community, and helped generate supreme interest in a Knicks team known more for disappointment and overpaid players than a phenomenon like Linsanity.

Lin, 23, and Ichiro, 38, are at different points of their careers, but fans and companies that supported Lin could move on to the newest Yankees outfielder.

I think it's a brilliant move, said Ed Horne, the chief operating officer for Madison Ave Sports and Entertainment and a former executive for the National Hockey League. From a business perspective, when you look at the Asian population of New York, it provides such a natural opportunity for the Yankees business machine to leverage; to connect with new sponsors.

Lin, who was described by Forbes as a one-man, global economic stimulus package, energized New York City in a way that many had never seen. He increased Knicks merchandise sales, helped drive up ticket prices on the secondary seller market, and helped end a dispute between Madison Square Garden Co. (Nasdaq: MSG) and Time-Warner Inc (NYSE: TWX).

It is hard to imagine Ichiro accomplishing all of that in just a few months, but Horne believes he'll ultimately have a greater impact than Lin did in New York.

While circumstances are different, a player like Ichiro, who is already proven and already established, should have a greater impact (than Lin.)

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