Hanmi Financial Hires Korean MLB Stars as Pitchmen

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Hanmi Financial (HAFC) in Los Angeles has turned a double play with its marketing efforts.

The $2.9 billion-asset parent of Hanmi Bank said this week it has signed Shin-Soo Choo of the Cincinnati Reds and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers as pitchmen.

The company is counting on the duo to build buzz in its target market, the Korean-American community in the L.A. area.

Choo's pact with Hanmi re-ups by two years a deal between the lefty slugger and the company that dates to 2011. Ryu's deal with Hanmi, the first between the left-handed pitcher and the bank, runs for six years.

Both Choo and Ryu will appear in advertising and public relations campaigns for Hanmi, which says the bank is counting on the players' popularity to help Hanmi win customers.

"We are largely rooted in the Korean-American community, but one of the reasons we like acquiring these two players is that they are in Major League Baseball, and there's a lot of recognition among non-Koreans," Jenny Park, Hanmi's senior creative officer, told American Banker. "It's a good opportunity to introduce our bank to a broader audience."

Banks have long turned to athletes for promotional talent. First Mariner Bancorp (FMAR) in Baltimore recently extended a similar endorsement deal with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Choo, 30, who joined the Reds in December after seven seasons with the Cleveland Indians, has appeared in television ads for Hanmi, taught at baseball clinics, volunteered at a food bank and signed autographs at Hanmi branches throughout the area.

Hundreds of fans show up for the signings, according to Park, who says the bank plans to give away tickets and lead fans in cheers at Dodgers games. She adds that Hanmi is exploring promotional possibilities when Choo and the Reds visit Dodger Stadium for a four-game series this July.

Ryu, 26, who in December signed a pact with the Dodgers reported to be worth $36 million over six years, "is a really big deal in our community," Park added.

Both players are off to solid starts this season. On Saturday, Ryu, who has two wins in three outings, struck out nine and went three for three at the plate in a win over Arizona. Choo was batting .333 with three home runs through Wednesday.

Mark Yoon, Hanmi's chief financial officer, says the bank plans to work with the Dodgers, whose new owners also are targeting minority communities in both Los Angeles and Orange counties. Enlisting Ryu and Choo, who are famous in South Korea, "will maximize the synergy effect on our sports marketing," said Yoon, who declined to say how much the company paid for the pacts.

The outreach follows an announcement in January by Hanmi that the company has hired an investment bank to explore options that could include a sale. "We have not reached any decision yet," Yoon added. "Just like any bank, we are thinking about strategic direction."

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