The hoopla and hype over Tim Tebow mania came to an end for the short term on Saturday night with the expected loss to the New England Patriots. More importantly, the game itself showed the gap between the steak (Tom Brady and the Patriots) and the sizzle (Tebow and the Broncos) in the very unforgiving team sport of professional football. That being said, the Tebow mystique and his rise over the last few months was certainly fun, noteworthy, impactful and full of potential. So what’s next? Some thoughts.
The Broncos Decision: For all the fun that the late season run was, the Denver Broncos were still only a .500 football team running a very unconventional system that will be hard to replicate for the long term or of their current starting quarterback was to get hurt. For all the brand value Tebow brought to the team for the short term, the ling term value is in winning in the NFL, so the team needs to decide if Tebow is their future and then market accordingly. If he is not, offseason hype can lead to unrealistic expectations, and all that good will built up can be for nothing. It is a very fine line Denver must walk in promoting team vs. individual in a sport where it is as much about all the players and coaches vs. just one.
The Tebow Decision: For the short term, Tebow and his management team maximized what opportunities they could. Jockey was able to launch and build an effective campaign, his energy drink sponsor FRS, got huge props on his post-game hat, and of course his support of his values and Christian faith led to an almost unprecedented ad buy during Saturday night’s game by Focus on Family. Now Tebow and team have to decide if they want to diversify with offers or stick to some key brands with a little more short term dollars. The choice he will have to make is with regard to time…how much time will he devote to building his brand vs. doing what needs to be done with regard to football success. There are only so many hours in a day, and both take time to be successful. Will he grab the window now and be all Tebow all the time, or will he scale back and let the football lead to other oppts down the line? It will be interesting to follow.
Which Brands Make Tebow Time Successful? We saw Jockey come along, so will we see other sides of Tim Tebow emerge? Will it be very serious and conservative, or will he take a shot at having some fun with a few edgy brands that may change the opinion of people who were not on the bandwagon? Now we won’t see spirits and condoms and can’t see gambling, but could we see some fun brands like Axe Body Wash do a campaign? How about a dating service? maybe GoDaddy or a digital company? It will again be an interesting follow.
Winning Makes the Next Difference: Now that we have seen the short term wins and all the hype and discussion, the next level of wide sponsorship will be tied to long term on field success. That is what makes Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Aaron Rogers and Drew Brees the next level of athlete brand…they won, then they got the bigger dollars. Tebow grabbed the spotlight first, with the long term winning at the NFL level still to come. Can he improve his game to get to the Super Bowl and can the Broncos improve around him? Or will he end up elsewhere in a system that benefits from him best? That winning on the field is the best way to keep his brand top of mind off the field.
The Christian Right: Say what you want, love them or hate them, but as a block the Christian Right can influence eyeballs, brands, and opinions, especially in an election year. They have found an impassioned spokesperson in Tebow who will try and balance his faith-based opinions with the brands that will pay him big dollars. While much was made about his prayerful stance, athletes invoke The Almighty every day, from prayer circles in the NBA and NFL to players crossing themselves after a goal or touchdown or before an at bat. It’s not new at all. What is different is Tebow’s unique way of presenting and marketing his faith, from his Tebow stance to the phrases he had on his eyeblack in college. He gets the power he has, and the Christian Right has found ways to invoke his power with their messages. If that helps or hurts him or is a non-factor with brands will depend on how he does on the field and how strongly he and his team pushes those messages to an audience which may be religious averse on Madison Avenue or in Hollywood.
What If He Strays? Tebow is all about a squeaky clean public image. What if he goes on a bender or blows off some kids or gets caught by a cell phone cam doing something he shouldn’t be doing, even innocently? It will be interesting to see. He doesn’t have the million dollar offers yet that could make that straying a big factor, but it could effect some of the cult-like following he has developed. Then again, America loves a comeback, so a little off-color issues may actually make him even more appealing if he is successful on the field as well. To date, every move is carefully crafted and he has been pretty well protected despite the bright lights he has played under in both the NFL and at Florida. He is not naive with regard to the cameras and his image, and his team has done a great job of message control to date.
So is Tim Tebow someone like Doug Flutie, a great marketer who took advantage of a limited spotlight for great off field success? Or will he be like a Manning or somewhere in between. It will be a crowded year for brands looking for ROI, with the London Olympics on the horizon. As we pause to see whats next in the offseason and focus on the onfield winners, the next steps for Team Tebow will be crucial and interesting to watch, maybe even more from a business story than the ones we have seen so far.