Lewis' endorsements in question

Raven's corporate work could be in jeopardy even if he's cleared

February 04, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Ray Lewis has been one of the most popular players on the Ravens, a fierce competitor who has become a familiar sight at luncheons and new business openings where he appears as a paid celebrity.

But that thriving side business, as well as a growing base of corporate endorsement work, is in jeopardy along with Lewis' freedom, as the All-Pro linebacker sits in an Atlanta jail cell charged in a grisly double murder.

"Anytime something like this happens, it's pretty devastating for endorsement potential," said Noreen Jenney, president of the Celebrity Endorsement Network, a firm that lines up celebrity endorsements for corporations.

"Even if he is eventually cleared, it will always be a problem," Jenney said. "Most of my clients just don't want to get anywhere near controversy."

Lewis' role as a pitchman had been limited. For one thing, he is a linebacker, and most endorsers prefer players at more glamorous positions, such as quarterback.

Lewis' agent, Eugene Parker, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday on the player's commercial situation. But one source familiar with Lewis' business affairs said they had been on an upswing in recent months as the team improved.

Some corporate partners have called to ask about the situation, but none has dropped him or pulled ads in response to the charges, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A few years ago, Lewis did some radio ads for PrimeStar, a satellite television service. His role ended when the company was purchased two years ago by DirecTV, according to spokesmen for both organizations.

Lewis has carved out a niche in the appearance business, where a player of his stature can command $5,000 for showing up at a store opening or golf tournament.

Among his recent appearances was as an "invited guest" of the Baltimore BayRunners at their opening game in November. He participated in an honorary jump shot with BayRunners co-owner Cal Ripken, and accepted a jersey during a halftime ceremony.

There were suggestions at the event that Lewis might join Ripken as part-owner of the team, but that never happened, according to Tim Richardson, spokesman for the Baltimore-based International Basketball League.

"He was very nice, very accommodating," Richardson said of Lewis.

Lewis was also among 22 NFL players named to "Team PostNet" last year to promote PostNet, a postal and business service franchiser.

He has also contracted to do appearances around the country on behalf of TSR Wireless, a New Jersey-based paging firm. About a year ago, he was on hand when the company opened a store at the Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie. No company spokesman was available for comment yesterday.

"It's not a hugely lucrative opportunity, but it's not bad money for a few hours of work," said David Nevins of David Nevins & Associates, a local public relations firm that occasionally hires an athlete for clients.

Nevins said his firm had never used Lewis, but saw his appearances being promoted frequently. Lewis will probably lose most of that work, at least for a few years, even if he is cleared of the charges.

It wouldn't be too much of a financial blow to a player who became the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL when the Ravens agreed in late 1998 to pay him $26 million over four years.

Among Ravens, Lewis' jerseys have been among the best sellers, according to local sporting goods stores. Interest has grown somewhat in recent days as curiosity seekers have come in and asked about his No. 52 jersey.

Jimmy McClain, manager of the Sports Shop at Towson Town Center, said he's fielded more questions than purchases of Lewis jerseys in recent days. "I'm keeping a standoff approach. He's innocent until proven guilty. I'm hoping he's innocent," McClain said.

The murders came at a time when the Ravens, too, were gaining in popularity in Baltimore after their best season yet.

Robert Leffler, head of the Leffler Agency, the Ravens' advertising agency, and a former marketing executive with the Baltimore Colts, said fans generally don't hold it against a team when a player gets into trouble.

"The fans will give them the benefit of the doubt," Leffler said. "It's not a reflection on the organization."

More on Lewis

Ray Lewis' attorney says the Atlanta police rushed to arrest the Ravens linebacker despite no evidence linking him to two murders.1A

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