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Throughout the winter, speculation raged on social media about where baseball superstar Bryce Harper would be playing this year. Whichever team signed him knew they would be paying a huge price tag to sign the charismatic star, but that the buzz and goodwill from such a mega-signing would pay off in other ways. And that’s exactly what has happened when the Philadelphia Phillies signed Harper to an epic 13-year, $330 million deal. The PR impact of the signing across social media was immediate, and it looks like the Harper signing could have a long-term “halo effect” on other Philadelphia sports teams looking to attract big-name free agents in 2019 and beyond.
Immediate social media reaction to the Harper signing
In the days after the signing, of course, social media was completely blowing up with news of the Bryce Harper signing. Philadelphia baseball fans welcomed Harper with open arms, viewing him as the final missing piece to a possible World Series bid. The general consensus was that having Harper on the Phillies would “make baseball fun again” in Philadelphia. Phillies baseball executives, presumably, were sleeping soundly at night, confident that they would be selling out baseball games in Philadelphia for the next decade.
And it wasn’t just fans, either, who were welcoming Harper aboard. Other Philadelphia professional athletes – such as Zach Ertz, Fletcher Cox and Alshon Jeffery – also went out of their way to welcome Harper. Veterans of past Phillies championship teams also welcomed Harper aboard. Jimmy Rollins, for example, welcomed Harper to the “Phamily” in Philadelphia. And outfielder Shane Victorino even jokingly asked Harper for a loan.
PR and reputation impact
What makes the Harper signing so unique from a social media perspective is how it has the potential to change the image of an entire city. Philadelphia has always been the city of the sports underdog – think Rocky Balboa or Nick Foles. Words typically used to describe Philadelphia sports teams are “gritty” or “working class.” And sports fans in Philly can make it hard for stars to enjoy their stint in the City of Brotherly Love. This is the city that famously booed Santa Claus, remember?
As a result, when baseball superstars like Harper looked to cash in on huge contracts every winter, the place they naturally turned was New York, not Philadelphia. Phillies baseball fans have always looked on resentfully as the Yankees have traditionally spared no expense in bringing high-wattage superstars to New York.. As the Harper drama dragged on throughout the winter, the growing consensus was that Philadelphia was just going to be too cheap to pony up the big bucks for Harper. He would be yet another superstar (like LeBron James) who slipped through the fingers of the city at the last minute. It was going to reinforce the image that, when superstars looked for a place to play, they would turn to New York or LA, not Philly.
Except this time it didn’t happen that way. Philadelphia got the player they wanted, and they spared no expense to do so. In just a few short years, Philadelphia has transformed itself into one of the most exciting sports cities in the nation. It’s no longer unthinkable that the Eagles can win the Super Bowl, or that the Sixers can make a serious run for the NBA championship. Harper is one of the true mega-superstars in the sport, and he’s still young enough to be playing for Philadelphia in his prime. As good as Harper has already been, it’s quite likely that he will become even better over his tenure in Philadelphia.
Long-term impact of the Harper signing
Now, every day on social media, the Phillies can reinforce the brand image of not just the team, but also the entire city. Want to play in a city filled with winners, superstars and legends? Come to Philadelphia.
In short, the Phillies hit a social media home run with the Harper signing. The No. 3 jersey that Harper wear is already the best-selling jersey in any professional sport, and if the Phillies go on a World Series run this year, it’s only going to make it easier for them to add more superstars next year. The ultimate satisfaction, of course, would be if the Phillies one day beat the Yankees in the World Series in October.