For TV networks, it’s Tebow Time


They say Tim Tebow can’t pass. They say he over-relies on the run, and prays too much on the field. They say he’ll never last in the National Football League.

But one thing the critics can’t say about the strangely polarizing Denver Broncos quarterback is that he isn’t good for television. In addition to being 6-1 since being named the team’s starter, Tebow’s winning ways have boosted ratings for the networks that are scrambling, and sometimes piling on and over each other, to broadcast the Broncos and its star quarterback.

The media obsession with Tebow reached new heights earlier this week when CBS and NBC battled it out to see which network got to carry a much-anticipated Dec. 18 matchup between the Broncos and New England Patriots. While CBS is scheduled to have the game for its Sunday afternoon lineup, NBC wanted it for its Sunday prime-time game and was pressuring the league to no avail to make CBS surrender it.


“Right now, Tebow conquers all,” said NFL Network commentator Rich Eisen.

The NFL Network’s coverage of the Broncos-Jets game three weeks ago was one of the most watched in the channel’s history. In Denver, KCNC, which carries the majority of Broncos games, has seen its local ratings jump by 13% compared with earlier in the season when Tebow was riding the bench and the team was struggling.

Meanwhile, Fox and CBS are shifting their NFL schedules around to get Tebow in front of the biggest audience possible. Last Sunday’s game between the Broncos and Minnesota Vikings on Fox was originally slated to be shown to 36% of the country, but Fox upgraded it so that it was available to almost 70%.

This Sunday, Fox has the Broncos-Bears game, which will be seen in almost half the country. And CBS has already decided to make the Broncos-Patriots game available in more than 70% of the country. (Three weeks ago, when it last aired a Broncos game, only 24% had the opportunity to see it.)

But even when Tebow isn’t on the field, he is a topic of endless conversation. Sports talk shows devote hours debating whether Tebow is for real or all hype. Last Wednesday, ESPN devoted its afternoon edition of its flagship show “SportsCenter” to Tebow mania and the NFL made him the cover boy of the first edition of its new magazine.

“When people say they have Tebow fatigue, I tell them the ratings say you don’t,” said ESPN producer Jamie Horowitz. Indeed, “First Take” on ESPN2 has gotten its best ratings ever over the last six weeks, a streak that coincides with Tebow’s rise.


In August, the odds of Tebow crashing the cultural zeitgeist seemed pretty long. A Heisman Trophy winner and first round draft pick out of the University of Florida long popular because of his stellar play and humble attitude, he had fallen to third string at the start of the season.

But after stumbling to a 1-4 start, the Broncos, whose fans had been screaming for Tebow to be given a chance, finally named the golden boy as starter. Since then, the Broncos have won five of six games.

“Half the world has jumped on the band wagon and the other half is ‘this can’t be happening,’” said Cris Collinsworth, an NBC Sports analyst.

It’s not just Tebow’s surprising success that has drawn attention but also the way he celebrates his religion. Born to American parents who were missionaries in the Philippines, Tebow rarely hesitates to trumpet his Christian faith — a practice that has become a lightning rod for criticism.

Tebow and his mother appeared in an ad during last season’s Super Bowl promoting Focus on the Family, the Christian ministry dedicated to providing “help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design.” In his autobiography “Through My Eyes,” Tebow writes that his family raised him with “a joy in getting to tell people about Jesus.”

“There is nothing more polarizing than a person with strong religious beliefs,” noted Collinsworth, who adds that Tebow is being judged unfairly. “We’re all begging for role models to pop up and here’s one slapping us in the face and people are critical of him being a good guy... He’s a young man living a life we should all admire.”

But how long can Tebow’s ratings bonanza last? That largely depends on how long Tebow can keep winning, said NBC football analyst Doug Flutie.

“The second he loses two games in a row,” said Flutie, who was often criticized when he was an NFL quarterback as being too short to play the position. “It will be, ‘I told you.’”