Move to New York puts Tebow center stage in media firestorm
Tim Tebow is quickly joining the elite ranks of celebrities in national awareness
In New York, Tebow will face a crazed media environment he hasn't quite seen yet
Broncos PR staff limited Tebow's exposure; Jets staff is criticized by local media
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. --The most famous backup quarterback in NFL history stepped onto the artificial turf of the New York Jets practice facility at 12:06 p.m. on Monday afternoon. He smiled as he walked past the yard markers on the field, the click-click-click of cameras marking his every step. Tim Tebow then stepped up to the podium to address the congregation, and what he saw was a three-deep row of 36 cameras in front of him. "How's it going?" Tebow said. "Good to see all y'all. Lot of people here."
Lot of people, indeed. More than 200 media members headed to northern New Jersey for Tebow's introductory news conference, an alphabet soup of organizations from ESPN to Fox to the New York Times. The quarterback answered 30 questions over 33 minutes, smiling politely at each inquisitor upon answering. When asked why a backup quarterback was holding a press conference, Tebow did a very smart thing: He blamed management: "The reason we are doing this today is because I have bosses, too," Tebow said. "They wanted me to stand up and talk to all y'all. So I could blame it on them because they made me do it."
It was the beginning of what promises to be a memorable ride for Tebow and the New York sports media, given he is unlike any second-string athlete in the history of New York professional sports. He now ranks in the Top 10 in the endorsement category of all celebrities, according to The Marketing Arm's Davie-Brown Index (DBI), which measures nearly 3,000 celebrities, including current and retired sports figures. Each celebrity is evaluated by respondents and given a weighted average score across eight attributes -- appeal, aspiration, awareness, endorsement, influence, breakthrough, trendsetter and trust.
SI.com asked The Marketing Arm to provide updated statistics as of last week, and Tebow's numbers continue to soar.
The quarterback sits at No. 4 among all celebrities in DBI's Endorsement scale, trailing only Oprah Winfrey, Adele and Kate Middleton. (Will Smith, Bill Gates, Hank Aaron, Tom Hanks and Jack Nicklaus follow Tebow in the Top 10 of Endorsement). He has also soared into the Top 10 in the Influence category -- up from No. 40 in December -- which places him alongside Adele, Justin Bieber, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. Regarding the Trendsetter attribute, Tebow has risen to No. 6, which is on par with Katy Perry, Anne Hathaway, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and Will Smith. His No. 13 ranking in Trust puts him in the same neighborhood as Warren Buffett, the late John Wooden, Bill Cosby, Jerry Rice and Dr. Oz.
The Marketing Arm says Tebow is now known by more than 75 percent of all U.S. consumers. According to Nielsen and E-Poll's N-Score ranking, which measures factors including name and image awareness and appeal, as well as attributes such as sincerity, approachability, experience and influence, Tebow has a score of 180. Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez has a score of just 12.
What will impact Tebow's scores on the DBI going forward is how much he plays this season. "The guy is not as exciting and influential if he's on the sideline with a clipboard or playing 10 plays a game," said Matt Delzell, a group account director from The Marketing Arm.
But that's not the case for the hypercompetitive New York media market, which has treated Tebow's arrival with lustful brio and plenty of column inches. Since he arrived from Denver last Wednesday, Tebow has appeared on the front of the New York Post three of the past five days, including a "GOD HIM" headline on the day he arrived. (The Post ran 24 stories on Tebow between Wednesday and Sunday.) The New York Daily News has also featured Tebow on the front three of the past five days, including a story centered around the quarterback attending the Broadway play Wicked on Sunday ("TIM GETS WICKED"). The News ran 28 stories on Tebow between Wednesday and Sunday.
In addition to tabloids and America's most well-known national paper, The New York Times, New York City is home to a pair of 24-hour sports talk stations, including long-time powerhouse WFAN-AM, multiple local television stations and all the broadcast networks. Worth noting is that the Bristol, Conn., home of ESPN, whose obsession with Tebow is similar to the one Jennifer Jason Leigh had for Bridget Fonda in Single White Female, sits just 107 miles north of Manhattan.
"He transcends the sports landscape and that's why you are seeing stories on the front of the paper," says Teri Thompson, the managing editor for sports at the New York Daily News. "And he creates immediately a quarterback controversy, which of course is a Godsend to the tabloids of New York. Once training camp begins, it will be like that Allstate commercial -- mayhem. And then once the season starts, Lord only knows what will happen, and no pun intended."
"He's going to sell papers because he's a guy that sparks great interest from the public," said New York Post night sports editor Pat Hannigan, who has worked at the paper since 1978 and is well-known within newspaper circles for providing some of the paper's most famous back page headlines. "As for writing headlines, with a guy like Tebow there are a lot of things to play off. You can almost go to the Bible. On Friday we had REX'S NEW COMMANDMENT: LOVE THY BACKUP because Rex [Ryan] was raving about the guy."
Connor Ennis, who oversees NFL coverage for The New York Times, said Tebow's arrival would not fundamentally change how the paper covered the Jets, but they planned to come at Tebow from multiple story angles. "It's tough to think of a sports figure that's known by sports fans and non-sports fans, and is both very popular and divisive to a certain segment," Ennis said. "People will be very aggressive in covering him, and you'll see a lot in the coverage once the season starts. If Sanchez has a bad game, I'm sure you will be seeing columns calling for Tebow. In a way it will sort of be like Tiger Woods at his peak, when so many people who were not golf fans would pick up a paper and say "How did Tiger do?"
Both Thompson and Hannigan said they have yet to discuss whether Tebow would be assigned his own reporter -- something The Washington Post did when Michael Jordan joined that franchise in 2001 -- but Thompson said it is something the Daily News would "seriously consider."
So what can Tebow expect from the reporters inside the Jets locker room? Multiple reporters who cover the Jets called it a very competitive beat ("Quirky and clashing personalities," said one Jets reporter, describing the media clan) and Tebow entering the ecosystem will exacerbate that. "Even during press conferences there is a real competition to tweet what Rex said first," said Jane McManus, who covers the team for ESPNNewYork.com. "It is an extremely competitive beat and it can get contentious at times. With Tebow arriving or when Brett Favre came in, or with any big moment involving the Jets, you get this wash of columnists who move back and forth between all the New York teams. Now you'll have the 'Access Hollywood' and 'Inside Edition' people. It will be crazy."
On Monday, the Jets used the field house at their practice facility to hold Tebow's introductory news conference, because they did not have a room big enough to house the media overflow. "The Jets are never well-prepared for any of this stuff," said one longtime Jet reporter. "They are always behind the eight ball. Every New York writer would tell you the perfect combination of the two teams would be the Jets' storylines and the Giants public relations staff. The Jets PR staff is constantly like: "We didn't expect that to happen." It's going to be crazy with Tebow. You're going to see people like Pat Robertson and Bill O'Reilly talking about what the Jets should do with their backup. They'll have so many critics. And the history of the Jets is they try to protect the guys that have any kind of news value."
Sports talk radio often drives the water-cooler conversation in New York, and caller lines last week were heated with fans wanting to talk about the Tebow acquisition. "It has completely overtaken the radio station," said Mark Chernoff, the vice president of sports programming for CBS Radio and the operations manager for WFAN-AM. "Linsanity was big, but it did not overwhelm the radio station the way Tim Tebow has."
Michael Kay, the afternoon host for ESPN New York 1050-AM, said that his callers were overwhelmingly negative about the Tebow deal. "Not so much that he's a bad player," Kay said, "but they don't think he's a great player. There doesn't seem to be any gray area with Tebow and that makes him the perfect subject for the media.
Kay said he attended an ESPN Next party two months ago at the Super Bowl and spotted Tebow in the corner surrounded by 30 people. "Sitting maybe 10 feet from him on a couch were Barry Sanders and Jim Brown," said Kay. "Nobody was near them and nobody looked at them. They were all with Tebow. I mean, this guy is the Beatles."
Both WFAN and ESPN New York 1050-AM are interested in having Tebow do a weekly spot on their station, something unheard of in New York for a backup player. Said Kay, laughing: "We've never discussed getting [Giants backup quarterback] David Carr for a weekly spot."
While Denver is a one-newspaper town, it is hardly a small media market. The Denver Post had three full-time beat writers last season and three full-time columnists who would make occasional appearances at Broncos practices and press conferences. There are also four television stations, three local talk radio stations and a number of websites that cover the Broncos. Lindsay Jones, a Broncos reporter for The Denver Post, said there were about 60 media members at Wednesday media sessions when Tebow spoke. How did Tebow handle that media crush?
"I thought he handled it great, and I think there were two main reasons for this," Jones said. "First, his media demands in Denver were very carefully managed by the Broncos media relations department. He did his weekly press conference at the podium (initially it was outside, off the practice field, but was eventually moved inside to accommodate the cameras) and the opponent conference call on Wednesdays, and usually a limited amount of one-on-ones with local beat folks or national guys who had flown into town. Those interviews, always in the hallway, not in the locker room, were prearranged through Broncos PR.
"Other than that stuff on Wednesday, the only other media he did was a taped segment with KOA radio (the team's official radio partner) on Fridays, a quick KOA call-in on Mondays and then the network production meetings. Broncos PR declined hundreds of media requests a week. You think back to how much we heard and saw Tebow on television last season, but it was lots of clips from the postgame press conference or Wednesday press conference."
Jones said that Tebow never treated his media obligations like a chore. She said he made an effort to learn the names of the beat reporters who were around regularly and his media interaction was much more of a touchy situation when he was not the starter (yet the most in-demand player in the locker room). Tebow also had the benefit of having been in the spotlight since his early days at Florida, a beat covered by nearly a dozen newspapers, plenty of websites and national college football reporters.
"I mean, he never had anything happen in Denver as uncomfortable as being asked about his virginity at the podium at SEC media days," said Jones, who covered Tebow in college when she worked at The Palm Beach Post. "That said, Tebow is really good at not really answering questions directly, and avoiding questions all together that he might not want to answer. He became quite the expert of skirting questions about [general manager] John Elway's commitment in him and his future as the team's starting quarterback. But even as he's dancing around your question, he'll look you in the eye and smile.
"In general, his press conferences don't yield a ton of substance. He'll drop a one-liner every so often, and sometimes will let you see his wit and self-deprecating sense of humor, just usually it's a lot of praise for his teammates and coaches, praise for the opponent and other football clichés. He really gets going, though, when asked about any of his off-field endeavors, and as he grew more comfortable as Denver's starter, he used those press conferences to talk about his charity work and his faith. I'm not sure how that will go over in New York."
The content of Tebow's press conference was exactly as Jones said it would be. He was unfailingly polite and good-natured, and gifted at not producing much substance. He was asked multiple times about his relationship with Sanchez, the expectations of the quarterback position, how Ryan will use him, and whether he was upset with the Broncos for tossing him aside for Peyton Manning. Rarely did his answers extend beyond the surface. He did get animated when asked about the Wildcat formation and how his charitable work will extend to New York and New Jersey. He mentioned he was "excited" to be a Jet at least three dozen times.
The most interesting moment of the conference came with about eight minutes left, when a reporter from the Times asked Tebow to explain his core religious beliefs and why he had not addressed the hot-button social issues discussed by religious and political leaders. "We're at a press conference for the football team, so it's not exactly the platform to give and share everything you believe," Tebow said.
"But I have no problems ever sharing what I believe. I'm a Christian. I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. And that is first and foremost the most important thing in my life. For me it is about having a relationship with Christ. That's pretty much it. That is the basis of what I believe, and it is exciting for me to get opportunities to share that. But at the same time this is a press conference for the New York Jets football team, so I feel like it is an opportunity to answer questions about my opportunity to be here as a Jet. I'm excited about that. Any time you get an opportunity I am always going to talk about Jesus Christ and what he has done in my life. But I'm also here to talk about the Jets."
Seven minutes later, at 12:39 p.m., he was done. "Thank y'all, God bless," Tebow said upon conclusion. From there he did three one-on-one interviews -- ESPN, The NFL Network and the New York-based SportsNet New York Net (SNY) -- before exiting the stage, cameras continuing to follow his every move.