For 48 days, New York Knicks fans with with Time Warner Cable were left in the dark. Due to to a contract dispute between the cable company and MSG – the network that airs most Knicks games – fans found themselves missing out on one of the most exciting and talked-about team story lines in years.
The dispute was 37 days old when Jeremy Lin suddenly came out of obscurity to become the Knicks’ starting point guard, a fairy-tale rise to stardom that sparked a global phenomenon, a six-game win streak, and soaring ratings. The sudden fascination with Lin and his story put added pressure on MSG and Time Warner to find a resolution to their conflict – fast.
The companies feuded back-and-forth in print and television ads leading up to the blackout, each trying to shed the blame and win public support. When the blackout went into effect, MSG tried a new PR strategy: they hosted dozens of game parties in NY restaurants for the fans who were missing out. At one game viewing party at Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown, NY (where Lin-sanity was understandably at fever pitch – Lin is Chinese-American), MSG broke out the big guns: promotional t-shirts imprinted with pun-tastic slogans like “Time Warner Cable Is Keeping Fans In the Dark” and “Just Lin It”. All of the fans at the viewing event got a free custom t-shirt, bolstering consumer support for Team MSG and casting a negative light on Time Warner Cable. Some thought this was a great use of team sports apparel.
Sure enough, the standoff finally came to an end on February 17th after Governor Andrew Cuomo helped to arrange an agreement. We like to think it was the t-shirts.
Kudos to MSG for finding an easy and inexpensive way to use promo apparel to serve customers while also pulling a smart chess move on your opponent.