Ray’s people – and fans – respond

August 30, 2007 | Drew Forrester

What a wild Thursday on The Comcast Morning Show.

Faced with talking about yet another late-game O’s meltdown, this morning’s show suddenly took off in a direction that was not only unexpected, but, in the end, welcomed.

To review, on Monday night at his restaurant in Canton, Ray Lewis hosted the first of his weekly radio shows.  There was some sort of (unintentional, I’m sure) communication breakdown at the door – e-mailers (Monday night) and callers (Tuesday morning) referenced a $25 charge to sit upstairs and a $15 charge to sit downstairs…just to see the show.  Evidently, there was NOT a $15 charge to sit downstairs and either through corrected information or, perhaps, different people at the door – who had the correct information – 35 people or so got in downstairs and didn’t have to pay anything.  There WAS a $25 charge to sit upstairs and 45 people paid for the right to sit in the “VIP section” on Monday night.

Those people who arrived at the Canton restaurant on Monday night and were informed that there was a charge to get in either, a) paid it — or b) didn’t pay it.  Some of those folks who didn’t pay it contacted me (and I’m sure, other media outlets in the market) to complain about what essentially looked like a “cover charge” since the $25 didn’t include food or drink (but did include a Lewis autograph if you brought something along for him to sign).

So, on Tuesday morning, the topic of Ray’s show was brought up on the air and it was lightly discussed, but the level of debate was nothing like what we had today.

For some reason, two days later, the situation blew up this morning.  A full bank of callers chimed in – many of whom defended Ray’s right to charge whatever he wanted since it’s his restaurant where the show originates – and e-mailers filled my inbox at a hectic pace.  Sometime around 8:20 am, Ray’s attorney – Marc Rosen – called the show (unplanned – but VERY welcomed) and told my producer Adam Dembeck that he wanted to come on and “clarify things”.  Rather than bore you with the written version, you can hear that entire interview by going to the audio vault from today’s show (should be directly to the right of this blog, I think) and listening in for yourself.

I mentioned this today – several times – but it bears repeating.  Ray Lewis (and every Ravens player) has every right to command whatever kind of stipend/payment they want from any sponsor in town in exchange for endorsing their product.  To that end, the players also have the freedom to “cut a deal” with any media outlet they want – although I know for a fact that the Ravens are very dismayed with the manner in which FOUR of their players went about securing their shows on a direct competitor to the team’s flagship radio station, WBAL.  But, really, the in-fighting between the Ravens, CBS Radio and WBAL is not the crux of this issue that was discussed today.  It’s actually part of a MUCH bigger issue.  Thankfully, WNST isn’t in the middle of that one.  It has to do with people’s jobs, commissions, livelihoods, ego, promises, and, frankly, it’s a fight that will probably get more ugly before season’s end.

What this was – and is – about is this:  No player in the history of the Ravens has hosted a radio show and charged people $25 to get in.  Perhaps Ray is “ahead of his time”.  Maybe by next season, every player on the team will be trying this tactic, although I think it’s safe to say that no one on the club right now has enough cache to pull it off like Ray’s pulling it off.  Regardless of whether or not all players someday charge the fans $25 to get in and see one of their radio shows live, the unarguable point is that Ray’s $25 charge on Monday was the first time it’s ever happened here since the team arrived in 1996.

And people were miffed by it.

I wasn’t miffed, per-se, because I didn’t even know about it until the listeners (fans) alerted me to it.

But it’s topical to me because of all the players on the team who don’t NEED $25 per-head from 80 people (that, according to a guy with loose lips from WJFK, is how many people were there Monday night), it’s Ray Lewis.  As I wrote earlier this week and said on the show today, I think this portion of Ray’s career should be dedicated to “going out in style”.  He’s already had the “cash-in” portion of his career – that came a few years back when he got that $18 million signing bonus.  Now, it should be time for Ray to stamp his legacy on what has been a GREAT, HALL OF FAME career by bonding with the fans – not by taking $25 from them every Monday night during the season.

This would probably be a lot different – and maybe not as hotly debated – if Ray weren’t the first one in town to do this.

I’m sure Ray Lewis gives back to the community in ways none of us know.  Sadly, I wish we DID know more about him and the work he does for Baltimore.  It’s not OUR fault that his people don’t distribute information to the media keeping us updated on the good, philanthrophic stuff #52 does.

I don’t think Ray Lewis is a bad guy for doing a radio show.  And I certainly don’t think he’s a bad guy for getting a sponsor to pay him to endorse their product.

In fact, I don’t think Ray Lewis is a bad guy at all.  He’s an engaging, polarizing figure that has helped rescue this city from a decade of despair with the baseball franchise and for that alone, we all owe him a million thanks!  I – like every media member in town at some point – have been critical of Ray for things that have happened in the course of his career, but the good he’e done far, far, far outweigh the bad.  When it comes to evaulating Ray’s time in Baltimore, there’s no doubt it’s been a win-win for him and the fans and the team – which makes it a win-win-win, I guess.

I happen to think – and I’ve written this and said it – that he’s the best football player we’ve ever seen in BALTIMORE – and that’s opening up an entirely new can of worms.

But I also think he’d be better served to embrace his fans with a FREE hug (or a free photo or a free seat to his show) instead of one that costs them $25.  And that’s really what this is all about.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Note:  I DO appreciate Marc Rosen calling in today.  While I didn’t agree with everything he said, it’s a testament to him that he took the time to call in and give his (Ray’s) point of view.  And, lastly, perhaps Ray (as Marc alluded to in the interview) wasn’t the guy who made the decision on the $25 per-head surcharge.  Marc said that was a decision he and “the restaurant people” made.  In that case, they’re more to blame than Ray, particularly since Ray’s under the spotlight…not Marc Rosen or the “restaurant people”.