Bryce Harper eschewing endorsements, working on his own brand

Washington Nationals\' Bryce Harper runs to first during the second inning of their baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Saturday, April 28, 2012, in Los Angeles. Harper was thrown out at first. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper isn’t looking for more endorsement deals, but he’s not above a little do-it-yourself branding and marketing.

This week, I finally caught up with Harper’s marketing agent, Tyler Beckstrom of Boras Marketing, unfortunately after my deadline for last Friday’s article about Washington’s two most marketable new sports stars. Beckstrom says the 19-year-old is turning down offers now to focus on baseball.

“He realizes his greatest marketing tool is what he does between the lines,” Beckstrom wrote in an email.

So far, Harper’s endorsement deals are what the marketing world calls “endemic” — as in, products within the niche world of sports: Topps trading cards, Swing Away training aid, Akadema baseball gloves and Baltimore-based Under Armour (though that last one carries some general-interest juice). Another deal is close to being announced, Beckstrom said, but other than that, don’t expect many more for now.

But aside from formal business partnerships, Harper appears on regional cable television virtually every day — and national cable television whenever he does something newsworthy — and he seems to be making the most of his limelight.

Consider last Friday night: Harper injured himself with a bat and then took the field with blood still all over his face. Now, my first instinct would have been to wipe the blood away, but then my face wouldn’t be everywhere, with some bloggers buzzing about my toughness.

True, bleeding doesn’t stop on demand, but the staying power of the blood is more than a little reminiscent of Harper’s previous habit of applying stylized eye-black all over his face in a unique pattern, or his unusual hair. It’s a guarantee you’ll notice him.

This is sort of what sports marketing guru David Schwab was talking about last week when I was researching the original piece. While Harper isn’t a classic candidate for endorsement greatness, he’s coming onto the scene when it’s easier than ever to leverage one big moment into lasting attention — see the Twitter explosion when he audaciously stole home during a prime time game on May 6, or on the downside, when he professed his love for D.C.’s hated football rival, the Dallas Cowboys.

“Bryce is coming up at the right time when a regional player can become a national marketing star fast,” Schwab said.

We should probably be cautious about drawing conclusions based on anyone’s behavior at age 19. But this much is for sure: Harper’s been in the District since April 28 and already has a very well-defined brand, even though his performance has been mediocre by objective standards. Any business would love to move that fast.


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