Will a clean-cut Damon sell in the Bronx?

Originally Published: December 21, 2005
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

A move to the Bronx usually means increased marketability for a player. But will that be the case with Johnny Damon?

While he was with Boston, Damon made a name for himself with his caveman look. But, now that he's agreed to don the pinstripes, owner George Steinbrenner's edict that requires a clean-cut look from the Yankees is expected to strip Damon of the physical identity that made him unique -- his long hair and beard.

That identity crisis, marketers say, won't make it impossible for corporate America to embrace him, but it might take some time.

"Yankee fans will obviously cheer for him," said Steve Rosner of 16W Marketing, who has represented New York stars Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason and John Starks in the past. "But I'd say it will take fans the better part of next season to get to the point where they're all purchasing his jersey."

Johnny Damon
Getty ImagesThis look will be a thing of the past the next time you see Johnny Damon in an endorsement.
"The hair was an identifiable part of his personality that went along with the 'idiot' identity that the Red Sox developed," said Reed Bergman, chief executive of Playbook Inc., who handled Damon's off-the-field marketing when he played for the Kansas City Royals. "But it's a very different marketplace in New York, where he'll be perceived as a hired gun until he proves his mettle on the field. He'll go from being one of the real caricatures to just another All-Star, and it will take time for him to be called a true Yankee."

Over the past couple of years, Damon emerged as the face of the Red Sox, partly due to his role as a Yankee killer. In 2004, he hit two home runs in Game 7 of the ALCS to lead the team to a 10-3 win over New York, a victory that completed the greatest series comeback in postseason history. Boston, of course, went on to win its first World Series in 86 years.

He subsequently appeared on numerous television shows, ranging from "Saturday Night Live" to "The Late Show with David Letterman" to "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Damon signed his name on countless pieces of team memorabilia; and in April, he published a book titled "Idiot: Beating the Curse and Enjoying the Game of Life." It was on the national best-seller list for a month.

"We were shocked to find out how popular he was outside of Boston," said Brandon Steiner, chairman of Steiner Sports, which sells Damon's autographed memorabilia.

In fact, Steiner was selling Damon-autographed 8-by-10 photos and baseballs from the 2004 postseason for $229.99, and says he has only a few pieces left because he couldn't get the center fielder to sign enough to meet demand. Steiner has a joint venture with the Yankees that allows his company to market game-used memorabilia.

Over the past couple of years, Damon has done endorsement work with Dunkin' Donuts, Puma and Gillette, all of which have their corporate headquarters in Massachusetts.

He was so popular in Boston that life-sized cardboard cutouts in the coffee and donut stores were routinely stolen. And his game-used Puma cleats from Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS sold for $10,000 on eBay. Puma, whose deal with Damon expires at the end of next season, also made a limited edition Damon signature shoe.

On occasion, Damon's willingness to shave has proven quite lucrative.

This year, Major League Baseball sponsor DHL created an advertisement in which Damon donated a fake beard to the Hall of Fame. Damon shaved his beard to promote a new Gillette razor and raise money for local charities in Boston in May 2004.

Steiner, who brokered the Gillette deal, said Damon still has potential for the razor company even under Steinbrenner's clean-cut edict.

"Sure, he'll lose some of his mystique," Steiner said. "But he can use a Gillette razor to keep himself clean."

Johnny Damon
Aigner AssociatesiParty, a party supply store in Brighton, Mass., was selling Johnny Damon cutouts for half-price on Wednesday morning.
Jason Giambi, who played with Damon in Oakland in 2001, didn't have a problem getting marketing deals after he gave himself the Yankee hair treatment. Giambi appeared in his new style in ads for Nike and Arm & Hammer deodorant.

Whether Damon will stand out in New York, though, is up for debate. Last month, Sports Business Daily named Damon the third-most marketable player in the league, but the two in front of him were Yankees Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

"If the Yankees win, there will be plenty to go around," said Russ Spielman, a partner in The Agency, a sports marketing firm. One of its clients, designer Joseph Abboud, signed Damon to an off-the-field clothing deal last season. "He was able to stand out in Boston with Manny [Ramirez] and David Ortiz on the team."

But other marketers aren't sure it will be that easy.

"So many people say, 'Come to New York and your off-the-field presence will skyrocket,'" Rosner said. "That's a myth. It's definitely not a given."

Bergman said that Damon will have to earn his pinstripes.

"Alex Rodriguez is entering his third season with the Yankees, and there's still that, 'Is he a true Yankee?' talk lingering," said Bergman, who used to work with Rodriguez. "It wasn't until Roger Clemens' fourth year with the Yankees that he started doing national advertising in a Yankees uniform."

At least if it takes time for Damon to make a name for himself in New York, the 32-year-old will have something to fall back on: He'll average $13 million a year in salary over the length of his four-year contract with the Yankees.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter

ALSO SEE