The smart money on where Tim Tebow lands seems to be stacking up around the Jacksonville Jaguars, because a Tebow-back-in-Florida marriage seems like marketing bliss.
Plus, the team owner seems head-over-heels about Tebow, as noted last month on Jacksonville’s WOKV radio. Asked if he would have drafted Tebow, team owner Shahid Khan replied, “100 percent I would have.” He went on to say, “I think, when is the next time Jacksonville is going to have an athlete like Tim Tebow?”
Could landing Tebow re-energize the fan base and team, which has dismissed coach Jack Del Rio, starting quarterback David Garrard and watched owner Wayne Weaver exit since 2009?
Answering that is a bit like trying to determine whether Tebow can develop as a drop-back passer.
Lou Imbriano, former chief marketing officer for the New England Patriots, isn’t sure Tebow is the answer Jacksonville is looking for.
“Tebow definitely could spike some ticket sales and jersey sales and merchandise, but I don’t know if he’s going to be enough for the Jaguars in that market for real incremental sponsorship growth,” he said.
The first issue, Imbriano said, is the uncertainty surrounding Tebow’s ability to succeed in the NFL.
“The situation is not dissimilar to Doug Flutie when he left BC,” he said. “He was a Heisman winner and everyone loved him, but he never really panned out in the NFL. He had several stints, but nothing major. When he went to the Patriots there was a lot of talk and excitement, but because he didn’t get any traction it never really turned into anything you could see monetarily. I feel the same thing could be true for Tebow.”
The next issue is whether the Jaguars have the marketing staff to capitalize on Tebow, even in the short term.
“Kahn hasn’t been there long enough to establish a marketing staff that could run with Tebow in the short term,” said Imbriano. “It’s less about Tebow and more about the people who are running marketing and the business side. It would really fall on them.”
Scott Becher, who leads the partnership marketing team at Ft. Lauderdale-based Zimmerman Advertising, doesn’t share Imbriano’s reservations.
“Tim Tebow coming to the Jaguars would probably be the second-biggest football happening in that city since the franchise was founded," he said. "That’s a team that’s desperate for good news. With the new ownership and a renewed sense of connectivity to the community, Tebow coming to the Jaguars is just what the doctor ordered for that team.”
From his base in the Florida market, Becher sees plenty of opportunities for the Jaguars. “Fans and sponsors would embrace the opportunity to rally behind a local icon,” he said.
For the past two seasons, the Jaguars have required a number of extensions from the NFL in order to avoid television blackouts of games, and that’s after 9,713 were covered prior to the 2005 season.
Tebow is from Jacksonville, and his alma mater is just 80 miles from EverBank Field. The University of Florida Alumni Association says more than 22,000 alumni live in Jacksonville alone, not to mention the tens of thousands within driving distance.
Would they come to games?
“I cannot speak for all Jaguar fans, but I know many Gator fans in Jacksonville would like to see Tebow come home,” said Tracy O’Sullivan, president of the Gator Club of Jacksonville. “Many fans were disappointed when Tebow was chosen by Denver out of the draft.
“Now, there is a chance for Tim to come back to Jacksonville. The people who are making those decisions need to seriously consider this as a beneficial opportunity. I believe Tebow joining the Jaguars would give the franchise and the team a boost in many areas, and the Jaguar fans and supporters need that right now.”
Joe Cowart, co-host of the XL Primetime show on sports radio station 1010XL in Jacksonville, said he sees demand from a segment of the fan base to bring Tebow home.
“There’s a group of fans that call themselves “Jagators,” with undying support for their Gators and their hometown team. They were mad when the team didn’t draft Tim Tebow in 2010, and they’ll really be hot if the Jags pass on him again,” said Cowart.
But Cowart acknowledges that Tebow’s presence alone won’t be enough to keep the Jaguars relevant.
“I think for anyone to keep the fan base going in terms of buying tickets, coming to the games and making the Jaguars the top story in town, you have to win,” he said. “Tebow can’t fuel the fan base if he’s not starting forever.”