Sports biz: brand “T”

He hasn’t taken a snap from center, but Tim Tebow already has Bronco Nation wrapped around his throwing arm. You know, the one that used to have that weird little hitch in it.
Just listen in:

“In my heart, I believe he will go down as one of the greatest NFL players to ever lace ’em up.”

“Please help me welcome the Mile High messiah.”

“The more I learn about this guy the more I love the pick.”

“Tim Tebow will raise the Lombardi trophy before his football career is over.”

Those are comments lifted from various online fan forums over the last few weeks as the reaction to the Broncos’ first-round selection of Tebow has gone from curiosity to full-on embrace in about the time it takes a Georgia wide receiver to run a decent 40 in the combine. And although I couldn’t find the citation directly online, I’m pretty sure there’s at least somebody out there who credits Tebow with the resurrection of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the reason rivers continue to flow downstream on either side of the Continental Divide.

To be sure, heaping a hopeful sort of praise on newly recruited players is an annual rite across the NFL landscape, part of an off-season tradition that helps fans keep faith and owners preserve season ticket sellout levels. In springtime, every 290-pound tackle drafted before Round 3 is the key to a revived offense and a certain playoff berth. Every formerly obscure defensive end from TCU is the second coming of Lawrence Taylor, and every lanky wide receiver is poised, with proper grooming, to surpass Jerry Rice’s career TD mark.

Among the greatest quotes to encapsulate the enduring capacity for belief in one’s team came from Carrie Rozelle, the late wife of former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. “I never met an owner,” she is said to have observed, “who didn’t think he was two players away from winning the Super Bowl.”

This Tebow stuff is different. It transcends the ordinary off-season chatter and enters a rarefied territory occupied only once before in Bronco-land, circa 1983, when a promising Stanford graduate named John Elway couldn’t get a haircut in town without a horde of reporters chronicling the gravitas of the moment.

Tim Tebow, possessor of irrepressible smile and unimpeachable character credentials, the author of an impromptu “Promise” so stirring that it has been etched into a plaque hanging on a brick wall at the University of Florida, the left-handed, God-fearing, over-achieving, Heisman-winning quarterback-cum-third down specialist, has brought down upon the good city something that has been missing.

The timing is ideal. Having fired one of the most successful modern-era NFL coaches, failed to deliver a playoff team four years running, watched in misery from the sidelines as his team lost eight of its last 10 games and authorized the off-season trade of one of the most talented receivers in the game, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has delivered to the faithful a redemptive hero, a young man capable of both riffing Bible verse and eluding linebackers. And just to complete the symmetry, for the last four years he’s done it while draped in a uniform that is (seriously, now) predominantly orange.

From a business perspective, you have to admire the move. Tebow, for the Broncos, is less a player and more a brand – a foil to disappointment and disgust, a bright future personified. Broncos loyalist and blogger E.J. Ruiz wrote recently on that Tebow “is going to amaze you on the field, (and) inspire you off of it.”

That buoyancy of spirit is exactly what Bowlen and the Broncos had in mind. Tebow’s arrival already has had a positive economic impact. During April the Broncos were tops in the league for merchandise sales, and as The Denver Post recently pointed out, Tebow’s No. 15 jersey was the most popular among all NFL players. Behind the sales upturn is a story in market psychology.
Whether he starts, subs or even plays at all, Tebow already has delivered an ingredient that’s essential to inspire consumer spending.


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