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The Big Game 2013

How to Score an Endorsement When You Have No Game

Can the Tebow brand survive his scoreless drought?

Illustrations: Justin Runfola

Tim Tebow was a godsend in 2010, an unbelievable stroke of luck for the Denver Broncos. After getting the starting nod, the mechanically unsound quarterback led his team to its first playoff berth since 2005, defying analysts and football fans.

That, of course, is where the fairy tale ends.

Every year, college sports stars like Tebow enter the drafts with the greatest expectations. Select standouts are rewarded with rich contracts and big-brand endorsement deals. Certain talents like LeBron James—who, at the age of 18, famously landed a $93 million deal with Nike before ever stepping on the court of the Cleveland Cavaliers—end up legends. Still others turn out to be, well, Tebow, leading marketers to ask: Are they worth it?

In Tebow’s case, apparently so. He pulls down some $4 million per year on endorsements with Nike, Jockey, Soul Electronics, energy drink FRS and, most recently, TiVo, which enlisted him as pitchman last November even after his star began to fade. Tebow “engages people, even if he’s controversial to some,” TiVo CEO Tom Rogers tells Adweek. “They are still engaged in wanting to talk about him, and we’re looking to join the conversation.”

In fact, Tebow’s standing with the public hardly seems diminished despite a career that stalled last year after he was traded to the New York Jets. He still boasts a healthy Q score (consumer favorability rating) of 22. “There wasn’t a day you didn’t see something about ‘Tebowing’ [in Denver],” says Henry Schafer, evp of the Q Scores Co. “But just as quickly as it caught on, that’s as quickly as it faded away after this season.”

Tebow is hardly the first sports phenom to fall short of the hype. After signing third overall in the 2006 NBA draft, Adam Morrison signed deals with Topps, Adidas and Electronic Arts. But his time in the sun turned out to be short-lived after he averaged a little more than seven points per game across four years.

Will sponsors turn a cold shoulder to Tebow if he doesn’t turn around his game? Not some, it appears. “There’s a genuineness to the guy that not only applies to the playing field but it applies to life,” says TiVo’s Rogers. “We’ll be there no matter what path his career takes him.” 

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