<
>

Ryan Braun, cleat company 3N2 agree

Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun has agreed to his first endorsement deal since he was suspended for 65 games last season for violating Major League Baseball's anti-drug agreement.

Upstart baseball cleat manufacturer 3N2 said it will pay Braun a fraction of the price he was getting from Nike, which terminated his deal on Aug. 2, although specific terms were not disclosed.

3N2 president Marty Graham told ESPN.com that the company contacted Braun's representatives that day to talk about a possible deal. Things got more serious when Braun tried on the shoes, and he's been wearing them throughout spring training.

"We believe in Ryan," Graham said. "We've all made mistakes, and we're all human beings. Our country is about second chances."

Sports-market tracking firm SportsOneSource says that 3N2 has 0.2 percent market share of the roughly $220 million U.S. baseball cleat market behind the likes of industry leaders Nike, Under Armour, Mizuno, adidas and New Balance. Graham says that because smaller, independent distributors aren't as well tracked, the company believes it has closer to a 2 percent share.

As of December, Braun -- who lost $3.3 million in salary as a result of the suspension -- was known by 25 percent of U.S. consumers, according to the Davie Brown Index. The DBI data reflects that Braun's appeal among consumers is in line with those of Donald Trump and Dennis Rodman, and his endorsement value currently ranks with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

"With this being Ryan's first announced endorsement since all of the negative publicity hit, it better be airtight and really authentic," said Matt Delzell, managing director of celebrity talent The Marketing Arm, which owns the DBI.

Graham doesn't think there's any risk for his company in backing Braun.

"We're very honest," Graham said. "We're not Nike or Under Armour, who do cleats and products across a variety of categories. This is who we are. Once Ryan has the year we think he is going to have, much of the past will be water under the bridge."

3N2 isn't the only company that will give Braun new life in 2014. Nike's termination opened up the chance to get not only a new shoe brand but also a new batting glove. An official with Franklin says Braun will get paid to wear the company's "Natural II" line this season.

"He is one of the best players in the game and definitely will be out to prove himself this year," said Adam Franklin, the company's director of e-commerce.

In September, in the midst of his suspension, Braun's name was taken off a restaurant in Milwaukee that bore his name.

Braun was suspended 50 games for being a first-time offender in the drug program and 15 more games for conduct detrimental to the investigation into his role with the Biogenesis clinic scandal.