Call It a Comeback: The Ray Lewis Brand Rehab

by Gregg on February 1, 2013

My note: Mike Carrozzo is a guy I used to work with back in the day, and we recently caught up at a Starbucks. We covered a lot of ground – sports, brands and the blog, which led to his guest post that follows about a fascinating, and timely, topic – the rehabilitation of the Ray Lewis personal brand. Check out his post before the Big Game, and I guarantee it’ll give you something to reflect on during it.

People love comeback stories; they make for great headlines, unforgettable moments, and the stuff that makes legends. The world of professional sports presents the perfect backdrop for such stories, and perhaps no other league romanticizes these moments more than the National Football League.

As we get set for Super Bowl Sunday this weekend, the NFL couldn’t ask for a better comeback moment than the one it has front-and-center with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Whether you like to admit it or not, Lewis has done a remarkable job of rehabilitating a personal brand that some would say was beyond repair 13 years ago. It makes for an interesting case of examining how people (and companies, for that matter) can build their own brand comeback.

For those unfamiliar, with his story, this USA Today article will bring you up to speed on the events of Jan. 31, 2000—ironically following Super Bowl XXXV. To summarize, in the early hours of that da, Lewis and a group of friends were seen speeding away in a limo from a nightclub following a heated argument with another group, two of whom were left fatally stabbed. It was an incident that led to Lewis and two friends being charged with murder. But attorneys negotiated a deal where Lewis’ charges would be dropped in exchange for testimony against the other two (who would each later be acquitted) and a plea of guilty to obstruction of justice.

Since then, Lewis has been a model citizen and moved on from those events. And so has the NFL, which seems to have no qualms associating with Lewis’ personal brand, making him one of the faces for its NFL Play 60 campaign. So has, for that matter, consumer brands that have found value in attaching themselves to the Ray Lewis brand over the years, namely EA Sports, Under Armour, and most recently Visa. He’s also already signed on with ESPN to be an on-air personality post-retirement, maybe the biggest sports brand ever.

Let’s set aside the debate about whether or not Lewis should have been let off on charges 13 years ago. Focusing simply on how Lewis has rehabbed his brand since that fateful morning back in 2000 makes for a compelling case study in comebacks.

As Gregg noted in an earlier post, the rise of the “anti-brands” depends greatly on the way in which we the people respond to the situation; a point with which I agree. Lewis certainly has his fair share of fans against him—a few I have spoken with lately are adamantly against rooting for Baltimore due to the fact Lewis is on the team. But Lewis has seemingly done his due diligence with damage control in order to neutralize negative perception.

A key takeaway for me is the case this makes for how companies can build their own brand comeback. It makes me wonder:

  • What steps are needed to reverse negative perception for a brand?
  • How long do such efforts need to go on? (For instance, will Lewis be as embraced by fans once the jersey comes off?)
  • What will the long-term effects be?

All I can say is I know of a few athletes (and a few companies) that could take a page or two out of Lewis’ branding playbook.

Photo credit to Baltimore radio station WNST AM 1570.

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