Ray Lewis was once Under Armour’s most prominent NFL endorser.
The 20-year-old Baltimore brand is gambling that the retired Ravens linebacker has enough cachet locally and nationally to merit a different sort of long-term deal with the footwear and apparel maker.
Under Armour officials tell the Baltimore Sun they have signed Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowler, to an extended new partnership -- a seven-year agreement the company says “will focus on grassroots football programs and working together on community impact and giveback initiatives.”
Terms were not disclosed. The new deal supersedes a previous one between Under Armour and Lewis.
Lewis signed with the brand in 2007, becoming the company’s biggest football name. Under Armour has since signed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, among others.
Lewis retired from the NFL after the 2012 season. He has worked since then as a broadcaster for ESPN but is not on the list of personalities assigned to “Sunday NFL Countdown” for the upcoming season.
His Under Armour deal includes community and football activities.
“We are still working directly with Ray to finalize some of the details but we look forward to hosting two large-scale defensive camps as well as one elite camp next summer,” Under Armour said in a response to a Baltimore Sun query. “We have identified Baltimore and Miami as two key locations, hosting high school athletes from 14-18 years of age. These events would be Under Armour sponsored and athletes would be outfitted in Under Armour gear.”
Lewis said in an interview that his new Under Armour deal feels different than the first.
“I have a different vision now. I’ve shared my vision with Kevin (Plank). We understand the focus has changed. It used to be, ‘Give me the best cleats.’ Now it’s ‘I need you to help me make these communities better.’ I want kids to be able to imagine seeing themselves grow. We need to give true economic development in places it never had.”
Lewis said his focus these days on his new clean energy non-profit organization that aims to expand access to renewable energy in low-income communities.
Under Armour said Lewis will work “on initiatives that empower communities to improve the wellbeing of youth and families through diverse partnerships” and community centers.
In a separate agreement, Lewis and another retired Raven, Jonathan Ogden, are scheduled to make appearances for Horseshoe Casino Baltimore. The winner of a Horseshoe sweepstakes and a guest will meet Lewis during an event next month marking the casino’s second anniversary.
Under Armour is counting on Lewis having enduring popularity.
“While Lewis's national appeal may be fading a bit, he’s still
regarded as an icon here and people around the country associate Ray with
Baltimore,” said Matt Saler, director of sports marketing for Baltimore advertising and marketing firm IMRE.
“His brand still resonates and means something to people,” said T.J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Bel Air and Sonoma, Calif.