Tim Tebow’s Presence Brings Fans To AFL Games
2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow brought out plenty of fans and media in the early portion of the AFL season (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Tim Tebow is many different things. He was a Heisman trophy-winning quarterback with the Florida Gators. He was an NFL quarterback with four different teams. He’s also a football analyst on the Southeastern Conference Network.
Despite his extensive background in football, however, the role he’s gotten the most attention for lately is as a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League.
Tebow, 29, who signed a minor league deal with the Mets in September, was assigned to the AFL after a brief tune-up in the instructional league. Even that was cut short because of Hurricane Matthew’s impact throughout Florida, including at the Mets’ minor league home in Port St. Lucie.
And even though he’s by far the least experienced player in the AFL, he’s easily the league’s biggest draw. Through the league’s first week, Tebow’s every move was covered by dozens of members of the media, including a representative from nearly every New York-based newspaper.
"The first week, we have seen an attendance spike in his games. Honestly, though, the biggest difference is the media interest,” AFL communications head Paul Jensen said. "It’s been incredible. I’ve been around the Fall League 10 years, which includes (Bryce) Harper and (Mike) Trout, and Tebow’s celebrity seems to transcend athletics . . . I’m telling people that almost every e-mail, text and call I’ve had from the media was almost 100 percent Tebow.”
The media was out in full force for Tebow’s first batting practice session and mini press conference, which lasted 15 minutes. The next morning, before Tebow had even arrived at Camelback Ranch for Scottsdale’s game against Glendale, ESPN was on site for live reports from NFL reporter Bob Holtzman.
After the game, during which Tebow went 0-for-3 with two groundouts and a strikeout, the media horde reassembled for another lengthy question-and-answer session. Afterward, Tebow moved on to the waiting throngs of fans seeking autographs and a glimpse of the AFL’s most famous player since Michael Jordan in 1994.
People Will Come, Tim
The AFL’s season was barely a week old, but Tebow’s presence has already given Scottsdale a clear attendance boost.
Through three games, the Scorpions had drawn 4,131 fans to Scottsdale Stadium. That’s an average of 1,377 fans per game, well more than the average of the other five clubs in the AFL. To further emphasize how big a boost Tebow is giving the Scorpions and the league as a whole, no team in 2015 averaged more than 1,000 fans through the gates all season.
Want more proof? Those 4,131 fans that Scottsdale has gotten in three games is 48.2 percent of the total the team drew at home all of last season.
That’s even more impressive when you consider that the AFL doesn’t sell tickets in advance. If you want to attend that night’s game, you have to wait in line.
"The ticket spike is all walk-up,” Jensen said. "We had almost 1,000 people out at Glendale for a day game (on Opening Day). We had 1,750 (at Scottsdale) on Wednesday. There’s no doubt he’s influenced that.”
And people, without question, are lining up for Tebow, even on days he’s guaranteed not to play. As part of his agreement with the Mets, Tebow leaves the AFL every Friday to continue broadcasting and providing analysis for the SEC Network. That means he won’t play on Fridays and Saturdays, and the AFL doesn’t play on Sundays.
That message might not have been clear to the fans who were lining up before Scottsdale’s first Friday night game. When a fellow fan informed the line that Tebow was in SEC country, however, the fans immediately turned and left for home. They wanted Tebow, and he wasn’t going to be there.
Not Every Day
And even though the media would like to speak with Tebow before and after every game, ground rules must be in place. With that in mind, the Mets and the AFL conferenced before the season began to go over how to make Tebow available to the media without overextending him.
After all, Tebow, despite his layoff of more than a decade without playing competitive baseball, is there for the same reason as all the other prospects: to develop his skills and help him move forward in his career. An endless media crush would stunt that development.
"I did have a call from the Mets and then a conference call followed, to set some parameters,” Jensen said. "This isn’t the Tim Tebow Show. He’s trying to become a baseball player again, and he hasn’t played since he was, what, a junior in high school? The Mets want him to have that opportunity, not to be doing interviews every day.”
To accomplish that goal, Jensen and the AFL are drawing their policy from Tebow’s roots in the NFL, which limits media availability of its star players to avoid overkill from the media.
"Basically—and ironically—we’re kind of treating it like a quarterback is treated in the NFL. Typically they talk one day a week—usually on Wednesdays—and then after games. That’s kind of how we’re going to handle Tebow.
"He’s going to talk one day a week—Tebow Talk Day—and then if his performance in a game is germaine to the game, we’ll make him available briefly after the game like anybody else, but we’re not going to pull him aside every night just because he’s Tim Tebow.”
A Pleasure To Be Around
Besides his skills as a quarterback, Tebow is also known for his unflinchingly sunny attitude. He’s facing a very long shot to make it to the major leagues, and is doing for a team with one of the largest media contingents in the sport.
There will be doubters both inside and outside the game, and they’ve already made themselves known early in Tebow’s return to baseball. Through it all, however, the former quarterback has kept his same positive demeanor.
"He’s just got a kindness and a sincereness about him that is amazing,” Jensen said, "especially considering who he is. He’s very accommodating—I’ve noticed that—and he seems to want to please the fans, too. He’ll accommodate the media and the fans and he’ll sign autographs as long as he can. ... For a celebrity, and he is a celebrity, he’s very accommodating.”
The AFL season was barely a week old, but Tebow has more than made an impression. His impact has been felt at the gates, in the stands and in the press box, and it’s not likely to end in Arizona.
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In his second media session of the fall, Tebow said he "absolutely” plans to keep playing into next season and hopes to wind up with a full-season club. If the AFL is an indication, the next team he winds up on should be ready for a major influx of attention.