Since being named the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback last week, replacing a struggling Kyle Orton, Tebow has helped the Dolphins sell an additional 10,000 tickets to Sunday’s game against the Broncos. The former University of Florida Gator and native Floridian is a beloved legend in his home state, and thousands of Gator fans are expected to make the five-hour drive from Gainesville to Miami to support their hometown hero.
"The demand and interest in the game certainly has picked up since the announcement," Dolphins CEO Mike Dee told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "Clearly this matchup and the buzz that's out there have helped with tickets."
Tebow’s start, which, strangely, coincides with a celebration of his own 2008 National Championship-winning Gator team, means there will be a higher number of non-Dolphins fans in the crowd than usual. Financially, however, that’s welcome news for the home team. The struggling Dolphins have managed to sell enough tickets to avoid local TV blackouts since 2003, but the team’s dismal record over the past few years has resulted in declining ticket sales and apathy among fans.
The Dolphins have lost 11 of their last 12 home games and are 0 and 5 for the current season.
The Broncos, for their part, aren’t doing a whole lot better at 1 and 4. But for his legions of fans, particularly in Florida, Tebow joining the mix turns a matchup between two of the NFL’s worst teams into a can’t-miss event.
Mr. Dee insisted that Sunday’s game wasn’t “Tim Tebow Day,” but given the surging interest and the Heisman trophy winner's proven track record as a moneymaker, it’s hard to believe that Florida spectators and viewers will agree.
Since Tebow entered the NFL as the 25th pick in the 2010 NFL draft, his marketing power has far outpaced his actual performance as a football player. During the 2010 draft weekend, Tebow rookie jerseys outsold every other rookie and current player, surpassing the sales record set by Mark Sanchez jerseys in 2009. Between April 1 and June 30 of that year, Tebow jerseys outsold those of every other NFL player, including marquee quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, and Brett Farve.
Despite playing in six games last season, mostly as a backup, Tebow has endorsement deals with Nike, Jockey, and EA Sports. His 2011 memoir “Through My Eyes,” co-written with Nathan Whitaker, reached No. 22 on Amazon.com’s bestseller list.
According to the Davie Brown index, a tool popular with advertisers who use it to quantify the selling power of various celebrities, Tebow is the seventh most appealing NFL player currently active. Five of the six players ahead of him (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, and Michael Vick) are franchise quarterbacks – not second-year players fighting for a starting spot.
And in Florida, at least, some think the Tebow love might be great enough to save an NFL football team. As the 2010 draft approached, then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist told reporters that the Jacksonville Jaguars, struggling with record low attendance and rumors of an eventual relocation to Los Angleles, might be helped by drafting local boy Tebow. “I’ve actually talked to the ownership about that. I think it’d be great,” Governor Crist said.