He could have landed in Jacksonville. Instead, he had to go to New York. Just had to Tebow his way right into the biggest media carnival around. And we’re going to be subjected to near round-the-clock coverage of the most celebrated backup quarterback since Gerald Ford was stepping in for Dick Nixon. (Only Ford was an old center.)
Just when we thought there would be a six-month interregnum in the Tim Tebow madness, Denver went out and signed Peyton Manning. That necessitated the dishing off of Tebow, and thanks to Providence – and perhaps a little coaxing from the NFL – Tebow ended up with the Jets in a move that made little sense, unless you consider the franchise’s historic little-brother Big Apple status with the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.
If Monday’s introductory press conference was any indication, there are no adjectives available in our language to describe the frenzy that will accompany his every move. More than 200 media members showed up at the Jets’ practice facility, which was called into service for the occasion when the team realized that shoehorning all of the press types into the usual media space would have caused even the most jaded New York fire marshal to protest.
Tebow’s presence in New York is an answer to the prayer of every newspaper, talk radio host, TV station, social media denizen and telegraph operator. He brings a ridiculously high level of recognition, and his mere presence in New York invites the type of controversy that tabloids crave. Try to remember the last time a backup QB had an introductory press conference. Then, try to imagine what will happen the first time Jets starter Matt Sanchez throws an interception. The New York Post might begin printing issues every hour, just to feed the city’s desire for Tebow news. There is talk that the New York Daily News might assign a reporter to Tebow full-time. And even the Gray Lady, the New York Times, has run a front-page article on Tebow.
The big question is whether all of the Tim-sanity (sorry) is warranted. Why would a backup deserve such treatment? For old-school newsmen and women, the entire situation is nausea inducing. Remember when stories were run based on whether they were newsworthy, not whether the 24/7 news cycle demanded constant feeding? That model is out the window. If something sells, go with it. If it finds an insatiable market, beat it to near-death, administer CPR and start beating again.
Monday, SI.com media writer Richard Deitsch provided some fascinating marketing data on the Tebow phenomenon that provided insight into why otherwise rational news outlets (for the most part) would bow to the Tebow spectacle. According to The Marketing Arm, which uses something called the Davie-Brown Index to measure the popularity of almost 3000 celebrities in eight different categories that range from appeal to trustworthiness, Tebow is unstoppable. In the DBI Endorsement Scale, Tebow ranks an astonishing fourth, behind only Oprah Winfrey, Adele and Kate Middleton. That’s ahead of every other athlete, not to mention George Clooney, Justin Bieber and Sinbad.
He’s 13th overall in trust. He is known by more than 75% of consumers. In other words, he’s a sensation who has crossed over boundaries few other athletes have in the history of sport. Not only does the hard-core NFL fan know about Tebow, but the casual observer does, too. So does the person who reads US Magazine. Think that’s a little appealing to advertisers or to the media? You better believe it.
Thanks to metrics like that, the media basically has no choice but to swarm Tebow and mine his story for every flake available. In a media climate that is more competitive than ever before, it’s almost impossible to maintain a reserved approach to the backup quarterback. Consider that last week, in the midst of the Peyton Manning/Saints suspensions/Tebow trade NFLpalooza, ESPN’s 4 p.m. hour of pro football programming ratings were up 63% from last year during the same period. NFL Network experienced a 269% jump. And last Wednesday, when the Tebow trade was announced, ESPN’s New York-dedicated web site recorded its best day ever, with 2.6 million unique visitors.
Back in the Old Days, when newspapers ruled the world, hard-boiled editors would stage daily slugfests to determine what was newsworthy enough to warrant front-page treatment. Sure, they muckraked and sensationalized certain topics, but I like to think there was at least a nod to what was truly important. When ESPN chooses to focus during “SportsCenter” on the trade of a backup QB over landmark NFL ruling that sidelines a coach for a full season, something’s wrong.
But this is our new reality. And it’s not going to improve. The Tebow story has tentacles longer than even the most imposing Portuguese man-of-war. It has already reached the religious community. The supermarket tabloids will grab it soon as Tebow lands in NYC and begins to be spotted around town. Expect the business press to weigh in with evaluations of Tebow’s marketing prospects. As it gains momentum, it will continue to swell, so that when the actual football season starts, New York – and NFL fans around the country – will be worked into such a froth that nothing short of 24-hour coverage will suffice.
Tim Tebow is in New York, and we have no choice but to give in to his power. Get ready for a news churn unlike any we have ever seen.
Why, oh, why couldn’t it have been Jacksonville?
Michael Bradley is a writer, broadcaster and teacher headquartered in suburban Philadelphia. His written work has appeared in Sporting News, ESPN the Magazine, Athlon Sports, Hoop and Slam, among others. He is a host on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia and contributes analysis for Yahoo! Sports Radio and Sirius Mad Dog Radio. He appears on CSNPhilly.com, writes a weekly column on Philadelphia Magazine’s “Philly Post” and has authored 26 books. He teaches sports journalism at Saint Joseph’s, Villanova and Neumann Universities.