Last fall, as my indoor volleyball team was getting clobbered during a particularly grueling match (as a tall girl I am required by law to play either this sport or basketball), we noticed that the opposing team kept converging in a circle in the middle of the court after big plays, kneeling on one knee, propping up an elbow, and resting their foreheads on their fists. Over and over again. While one of them took pictures. None of us knew what to make of the situation and figured the team had hit up a happy hour beforehand.
The following day, a fellow teammate sent around a link to a story on Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow by way of explanation, and “Tebowing” officially entered my vernacular.
Now, the New York Jets have signed Mr. Tebow as their backup quarterback in a trade with Denver (following the Broncos’ much-hyped acquisition of Peyton Manning), and as a resident New Yorker, I have found Tebow-mania creeping into my consciousness once again—something that doesn’t happen all that often with football.
As Tebow makes his way east from Colorado, many have wondered aloud how the openly devout Christian will mesh with the more jaded, less religious, and rather vice-heavy city of New York. Not surprisingly, this question is also crossing the minds of marketers who are looking to cash in on Tebow’s rising star.
“Tim Tebow can be the king,” said Ronn Torossian, CEO and president of 5W Public Relations, in an interview with the Daily News. “There is no bigger place to shine than in New York City and I think the Tebow brand is one that transcends sports. I think the guy can get unlimited sponsorships in New York City.”
The Daily News reports that this sentiment is naturally echoed by executives working for the brands Tebow is already signed with, like Nike, Jockey (check out their new Lincoln Tunnel billboard featuring Tebow), and EA Sports. These endorsements are worth a cool $1 to $2 million a year, but they are still a far cry from the $10 million and $15 million in deals nabbed by the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning on an annual basis.
And yet, while some marketers predicted Tebow could reach the $10 million mark himself with his awe-inspiring winning streak last season, others noted that the quarterback’s evangelical views could be an obstacle. For example, in Tebow’s most notable endorsement to date, he appeared with his mother in an anti-abortion ad by Focus on the Family during last year’s Super Bowl :
Kevin Adler, founder and president of Engage Marketing, admitted to AdAge that while Tebow’s religious convictions wouldn’t immediately eliminate him as a choice for endorsement deals, they would give him pause.
“I have a brand right now that we are talking about putting a face on a campaign, and there are strategic reasons why a quarterback would make sense,” he told the publication back in January. “But when we talk about Tebow, it doesn’t make us cross him off the list but we sure do have a little more conversation about it.”
Steve Herz, president and founder of IF Management, a broadcasting and marketing representation firm specializing in sports and media personalities, also sees potential hang-ups with Tebow’s devout Christianity, particularly in the Big Apple.
“He will have a hard time being accepted for his outward religiosity,” Herz told the Daily News. “New Yorkers don’t wear their religion on their sleeves like they do in parts of Colorado.”
Still, there is something about Tim Tebow that strikes a chord with believers and non-believers alike. And while not everyone attributes his meteoric rise to a divine influence, many are still moved by the power of his faith, whether or not they share it. They are drawn in by his humbleness, his unadulterated enthusiasm (he apparently said the word “excited” 45 times at his press conference yesterday), and his ability, by all accounts, to truly practice what he preaches—especially in an environment that isn’t exactly conducive to avoiding the temptations of sin.
In other words, as Huffington Post contributor and NFL writer Barbara Bruno so eloquently noted, “Tim Tebow is the human embodiment of home, hearth, and apple pie.”
And in a world where football players have a tendency to shoot themselves in the leg, participate in dog-fighting rings, and find themselves embroiled in sexual assault scandals, apple pie isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“As a marketer, you want somebody like that,” Darin David, account director at The Marketing Arm, told AdAge. “He doesn’t have the same kind of negative backlash as other players.”
Of course, if he brings victory to his new team, some of these questions will inevitably become far less important.
“New York Jets fans won’t care if he believes in Hare Krishna if he wins,” Herz quipped.
Well, Mr. Tebow, they say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Godspeed, sir.