The Athlete Rebrand: From NFL Hard-Hitter to Branded Philanthropist

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Steve Smith, former Panther, and Raven, and Founder of the Steve Smith Family Foundation. (Photo via WhirlWind Creative)

*Centerfold is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports

After retirement, athletes still continue to build their brand in various other avenues; as this is not uncommon. For former Carolina Panthers’ and Baltimore Ravens’ wide receiver, Steve Smith, his foundation, the Steve Smith Family Foundation, is advancing their communities through health and wellness, while helping the awareness and prevention of domestic violence.

Smith grew up in a household with domestic violence; those experiences helped shape his life after football, and his foundation’s efforts. The foundation began in Charlotte, NC, in 2013, by Smith and his wife Angie.

“The thing that set the Smith family apart is their authenticity and intentionality,” said foundation Executive Director Gerard Littlejohn. “It gives he and his wife a perspective that most people do not have. When you have been on a receiving end, it makes the impact you have that much better.”

Through a previous project and a newly formed relationship, Centerfold Agency, and Littlejohn teamed up to brand the foundation’s events. After connecting, and a contract expiration, Centerfold knew it was the right opportunity to take charge of brand work and event activation.

“To date, we’ve rebranded our events, updated digital channels, refined brand messaging and helped activate charity events that have raised hundreds of thousands,” said Littlejohn.

The foundation hosts a wide variety of events Centerfold is paramount in; these range from golf to running, such as the “Tee Up for Health” Topgolf event and the “Lace Up Son Family 5k” race.

Centerfold’s main objectives are the communication and branding of the work Smith’s foundation conducts. One of their biggest platforms of work is the communication and marketing tactics that the foundation sees fit.

Smith and a Patron at the Lace Up Son 5k race in the Charlotte, NC area (Image via

With Smith being an athlete, he already has an established platform.

“Once you have a platform, a clear brand promise, and you execute and give back — people naturally gravitate to it,” said Littlejohn. His team has seen people clamor to get involved and give back to the community in this profound way. Athletes have this advantage over the public, and how their brand is portrayed is up to them and their work.

Centerfold’s continued role with the Steve Smith Family Foundation spans across brand development and managing events. Tim Rebich of Centerfold describes the relationship as legitimate and hard-working. He knows both organizations are passionate about their line of work, and the collaboration makes for success.

“This is an honest partnership and relationship,” said Rebich. “Littlejohn and Smith have grown the foundation from an idea to an organization that makes an impact in the community.”

Public figures like Steve Smith have more pull and a higher positive inclination to be respected — on the field. One question begged to be answered is “how do you brand Smith as a philanthropist in his new life season?” Centerfold responded with solutions.

By remaining in the sports realm for charity, the foundation and Centerfold came together to market and host local events.

At their Topgolf event in September 2017, the collaboration saw social media recognition on personal Steve Smith and foundation accounts of more than 350,000 followers, a full-page advertisement in the event program, company item placement in all gift bags, among many more small activations.

Activations like these coupled with charitable work bring out the best in what athlete branding offers after retirement.

According to The Grantsmanship Center, what separates a great athlete-founded foundation or charity relates back to how much time is poured into the foundation by the athlete. Usually, the athlete serves his or her hometown, or in Smith’s case, Charlotte, NC, where his career and family were established. The more time dedicated to the foundation, and relevancy to the player or demographic, the better it will perform.

In Smith’s case, all of these hit home as a parameter to its success.

Rebich believes that the term “partnership” is thrown around loosely and loses some of its meaning. Centerfold and the Steve Smith Family Foundation challenge that as both are committed to excellence in their work and making a difference.

*Centerfold is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports