To beard or not to beard?

by Maria Sanders

“Fear the Beard” has become a battle cry for fans of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. The phrase was coined when Giants closer Brian Wilson began growing a beard during the team’s 2010 play-off run. He promised not to shave it until the Giants lost.

The beard became a good luck charm and symbol of the ultimate end to the Giants season — a World Series championship, the club’s first since 1954.

Wilson returned from the off-season with the furry, black monstrosity still attached to his face. The beard, noticeably longer and darker, which he claims isn’t dyed but just “really tan,” remained throughout the 2011 season.

When it was clear the Giants were too many games behind to get a play-off shot this year, one question began circulating the Internet: “Will Brian Wilson finally shave his beard?”

We’re two weeks into the off-season and Wilson has yet to part with the facial hair that gained him such widespread notoriety in the sports world. With a great deal of his image tied to the beard, I can’t help but wonder what Kathy Jacobson, Wilson’s PR consultant, might say to him about shaving. I also can’t help but wonder, if I were in Jacobson’s place, what advice I would give to Mr. Wilson.

Wilson, B-Weez or B-Dubz, all appropriate ways to address Wilson, has used the beard as a branding tool. His website, brianwilson38.com, features a large black logo of his signature beard and Mohawk. On Twitter, his avatar is the same logo, not to mention the multitude of merchandise available featuring the signature scruff.

The beard has become a way for fans to connect with the All-Star as well.

On his website, fans can post pictures of their own beards for Wilson to see. You can even take a tour through his beard on MLB’s website.

In March 2011, Wilson held his first-ever “Weez’s Beard Madness.”  The madness consisted of fellow beard lovers competing to be crowned the National BW38 Beard Champion.

His beard has opened the door for all sorts of opportunities outside of baseball as well. B-Dubz has his own SportsCenter commercial, and he’s a spokesperson for the video games NBA 2K12  and MLB 2K11.

“From a marketing perspective, I would say his beard not only doubled the opportunities he was presented, but also doubled the cost compared to a typical athlete in his position,” said Brandan Orsatti of Cohn Wolfe, a global communications and PR agency.

In his article, “How Much Is Brian Wilson’s Beard Worth?”  Will Brinson compared the potential of Wilson’s beard to boost him further into the spotlight with the success athletes such as Steelers’ Troy Polamalu and Packers’ Clay Matthews have had because of their hair.

The attention both Polamalu and Matthews have gained has made them household names, and the same is possible for Wilson.

His newest business venture is as a spokeperson for the Vue 2011, a virtual event sponsored by ON24.  The event’s tagline is: “Fear the beard, not the technology.” With everything so closely tied to the famous beard, what does he stand to lose if he shaved the thing?

A rebranding of his image would have to take place. His website would have to be completely redone to reflect the change in his appearance. It wouldn’t make much sense to fear the beard, if there is no beard left to fear, right?

What happens to the connection with fans that grew to love B-Weez, and as a result, grew their own beards?

“I thought it was cool, a neat thing to do to show my support,” Cody Wilkins of San Francisco said. “I have been a longtime Giants fan, and Wilson, with his antics, is such a lovable guy.”

What would need to take place to keep those fan relationships strong once the common ground was broken?

The consensus seems to be, let the beard stay. It’s what has gotten Wilson to where he is today. Well, that and his 95 mph cut fastball.

“. . . [H]e should grow it longer if he wants, as long as he’s throwing strikes and saving games,” Geoff James said in a post on Giants Talk.

And he is. Some writers like Grant Cohn say the beard has become a distraction for Wilson. But would a distraction keep him from being one of the best closers in the game? Statistics show he still is. Wilson played in the 2011 All-Star Game this July, and recorded the save for the National League. The Giants’ woes this season can’t be blamed on a beard any more than poor run support.

It’s safe to say if B-Weez does shave the beard, his team of publicists and managers will have the time of their life working to rebrand the closer’s image.

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