Before Tim Tebow even had a number on the New England Patriots roster, his jersey was selling online at the team’s pro shop for $99.95.
One day after signing the former Heisman Trophy winner as a third-string quarterback, the Pats wasted no time capitalizing on one of the NFL’s most marketable players. They offered fans a chance to pre-order Tebow’s replica jersey, which the team said would be shipped whenever he was assigned a number.
Tebow got number 5 later in the day.
Lest there be any doubt that a benchwarmer can generate sales, consider this: Tebow ranked third in the league in jersey sales as a Denver Broncos rookie in 2010 and second in 2011—ahead of Tom Brady both seasons—despite starting less than half of his team’s games during that span. Last year with the New York Jets, Tebow never started and threw only eight passes all season, but still had the 13th highest selling jersey in the NFL.
“There’s no doubt that his Patriots jersey is going to be a big seller,” said Robert Tuchman, who founded sports marketing firm TSE Sports & Entertainment before starting a travel company in 2011. “There’s something about Tim Tebow that transcends even people who’ve won championships. He’s like some of these modern celebrities who are famous for being famous.”
Despite Tebow’s limited professional accomplishments, his reputation as a strong leader, hard worker and outspoken Christian has made him one of the country’s best-known athletes. His Q Score—the percentage of Americans who recognize him—was 83 last year, putting him in the same echelon as sports icons like LeBron James and David Beckham.
Tebow’s endorsements include deals with Jockey, Nike and EA Sports.
Popular as he is, Tebow has often been targeted for ridicule by Patriots fans. Tebow’s Broncos played the Pats twice in 2011, including a playoff matchup at Gillette Stadium that New England won in a blowout, 45-10.
Last season, Tebow’s inability to carve out a meaningful role with the Jets offered one more reason for Patriots fans to mock their team’s most hated rival.
Signing with the hometown team isn’t enough for Tebow to win over some Pats fans.
“I wouldn’t buy a [Tebow] jersey,” said Kevin Cohee Jr., 17, of Chestnut Hill, who was shopping at Niketown in Boston on Tuesday. “I hope he’s not too big a distraction because he draws lots of media attention. Instead of being focused on the team and the players getting better, they’ll be focused on all the attention that surrounds him.”
But others appear ready to embrace Tebow—and ready to wear his name on their backs.
“I’ll definitely get a jersey,” said John Bardford, 58, of Worcester. “I know he’s a good player and he thanks God for every successful touchdown he makes, so I think he sets a good example for people. Wearing his shirt would support him and what he stands for.” Globe correspondent Alyssa Edes contributed reporting. Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.