The following was offereed up by colleague Jesse Ghiorzi
On Memorial Day, Washington Nationals rightfielder Bryce Harper charged the mound and took a swing at Hunter Strickland after the San Francisco Giants pitcher nailed him with a pitch. It got sports radio and Twitter talking, but was this good or bad for Harper’s personal brand? Did it help his case as the “face of baseball”? Let’s take a look.
The punch led to the biggest spike on Harper’s Google Trends timeline, surpassing events like:
- 2012 NL Rookie of the Year
- The “Clown Question, Bro” meme (memay?) interview in 2012
- 2015 appearance in ESPN The Magazine Body Issue
- 2015 NL MVP
- Fighting Jonathan Papelbon in 2015 (he made a lot of noise in 2015!)
- Signing the largest arbitration salary in MLB history in 2017
Derek Jeter, the last man to hold the “face of baseball” title for a significant amount of time, and Harper have little in common besides immense talent. Where Jeter was understated, Harper is outgoing. Jeter played in the nation’s largest market, making the World Series five of his first six seasons. Harper plays in a big city without a long history of success and hasn’t made it past the Division Series so far.
No doubt, Jeter had a leg up, but he’s gone. So where does that leave Harper? Among active players, Harper ranks 10th on Twitter, seventh on Facebook and second on Instagram in audience. Social media isn’t the only indicator, but the day after the punch, he added 7,900 followers on the big three networks. A big leap compared to the 1,000- 2,500 he typically adds each day. TV ratings are still crucial but they’re not the only piece of the pie as social grows in importance These numbers shows that this dust-up is reaching new and larger audiences. This is good news for Bryce and for baseball. Though the downfall of baseball has been greatly exaggerated, the fanbase is aging and this can attract more young fans.
But is it the right kind of attention? As mentioned above, Harper’s brand isn’t about being soft-spoken and humble. He’s brash, controversial and has a variety of interests outside of the game. For him, this is the right move. Not much can make casual fans talk about baseball between Opening Day and Postseason. This did.
It wasn’t PEDs, domestic violence or a DUI, it was a fiery player showing some flames. Young fans love when LeBron James and Draymond Green get chippy on Instagram. Twitter lit up when Sidney Crosby and PK Subban had a back and forth about Listerine during the Stanley Cup Finals. Those are two of the faces of their respective leagues and it helped create attention in between games. Maybe Harper should double down on the fighting – but move it to social or the back pages so he doesn’t get suspended.
To do that, he needs an adversary and Strickland isn’t the guy. Could it be Manny Machado, who was dubbed the “face of baseball’s new identity” last week?
Harper is not at the level of Jeter (or Papi or A-Rod) quite yet, but letting that authentic fire shine through sure helps his chances.
Jesse Ghiorzi is the director, brand strategy for CHARGE (chargegf.com). He leads the branding team and handles media relations, content development, branding and positioning strategies for CHARGE clients.
Before joining CHARGE, Ghiorzi directed PR, social media and ticket sales at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He got his start in sports with the Texas Tornado before a stint at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Born and raised in New York, Ghiorzi graduated from Miami University. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife, Chelsi, a sport psychologist, and two dogs with sports-themed names.