|McDonald's has signed Houston Rockets basketball star Yao Ming as a product spokesman.
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The deal was signed yesterday, according to an executive close to McDonald's, adding that the pact runs through the 2008 Olympics. Mr. Yao is expected to begin shooting TV spots this week, the executive said.
"Yao Ming personifies what the McDonald's brand is all about -- a youthful, fun, dynamic spirit which connects to today's customers and cultures," Larry Light, McDonald's executive vice president and global chief marketing officer, said in a statement. The NBA star will participate in marketing activities supporting physical fitness, the Olympic Games, various ongoing advertising programs and the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Sports is one of the four "languages" that McDonald's has chosen as a marketing platform aimed at rekindling its appeal with younger consumers. Other "languages" are music, fashion and entertainment.
The 23-year-old Mr. Yao has proved his international appeal and increasing popularity, having signed endorsement deals worth millions with Apple Computer, Reebok International and Visa. Forbes magazine this week listed Mr. Yao as the highest paid Chinese celebrity, with an estimated income of $14.5 million, mostly from his endorsement contracts.
The deal with the 7-foot-6 basketball star, who hails from Shanghai, fits well into McDonald's new "I'm lovin' it" global marketing platform. Mr. Yao drew more than half the visits to NBA Web sites this season from outside the U.S., a first for the league, and he narrowly beat Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal in fan balloting for this weekend's NBA All-Star Game, which is being held in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. In 2002, Mr. Ming was the first international player selected with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
The NBA is perhaps the most globally minded U.S.-based sport, the first to establish offices around the world. Sunday's All-Star Game broadcast will be shown in 212 countries and is expected to draw more than 750 million viewers worldwide.
NBA, Olympics sponsorship
McDonald's has a long relationship with the league, even setting up a European tournament in 1987 called the McDonald's Open. The world's largest fast-food chain has been a sponsor of the NBA since 1990 and is a major Olympic sponsor. The 2008 Summer Games will be held in Bejing, where along with Shanghai Mr. Yao and the Rockets will play the Sacramento Kings in exhibition games this October, before the start of the 2004-05 basketball season. Some estimates predict more than 40% of players drafted into the league by 2014 will be from overseas.
McDonald's last month confirmed it didn't renew its contract with another basketball star, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. Mr. Bryant is currently facing charges of sexual assault in Colorado.