The game on CBS averaged a 25.9 household rating/43 share, according to Nielsen, the highest-rated first-round NFL playoff game in 24 years. Politicians, including Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, have referenced Mr. Tebow in speeches. Ever since coming off the bench earlier in the season to lead the Broncos to the playoffs, he touched off a craze known as "Tebowing" -- dropping to one knee, elbow bent with forehead resting in hand, in prayer, as the religious Mr. Tebow does during games. After Sunday's game, mentions of Mr. Tebow on Twitter set a peak rate record of 9,420 tweets per second on the social-media site, including this one from none other than Lady Gaga: "Giants fan but wow. #Tebow Thats what the f**k a champion looks like."
So how much is all that notoriety worth? Mr. Tebow currently has endorsement deals with Jockey brand underwear, Nike and EA Sports that net him about $1 million to $2 million a year, but San Francisco-based sports-marketing expert Bob Dorfman expects Mr. Tebow's marketing income to increase to $3 million to $5 million next year -- and double that if he continues to win.
"He's become an icon; he's bigger than football," said Mr. Dorfman, the executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising. "I can't see him beating New England (on Sunday) but I didn't see him beating Pittsburgh, either. But that 's the thing with this guy -- he keeps defying logic. Everybody keeps waiting for him to fail but it doesn't happen. He has the kind of marketing potential that could put him in the Tom Brady or Peyton Manning category."
Said New York-based sports-marketing expert and Columbia University professor Joe Favorito: "Ten million a year? Yeah, I think it's reasonable so long as his career continues to move along. Absolutely."
Darin David, account director at The Marketing Arm, Dallas, took it a step further. "I'm not so sure he didn't get to the $10 million [a year] level already after Sunday," he said. "To do that in the playoffs, to do that against a team like the [six-time Super Bowl champion] Steelers, the game that was the highest-rated playoff game in 20-something years?"
"As a marketer, you want somebody like that ," added Mr. David. "He doesn't have the same kind of negative backlash as other players. He is just so newsworthy right now that you would want to capitalize on that ."
Mr. David's colleagues at The Marketing Arm are responsible for the Davie-Brown Index, which measures celebrity popularity and buzzworthiness in several attributes. In the latest research, Mr. Tebow now ranks among the top 85 celebrities in the world in the Trendsetter attribute, on par with George Clooney, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake. In Trust, he is in the top 75, along with Harrison Ford and Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. And in terms of Influence, Mr. Tebow is now in the top 40 of 3,000 celebs in the DBI, on par Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Aniston and Steven Spielberg.
The Colts' Peyton Manning and the Patriots' Tom Brady are among the few NFL players with crossover marketing appeal, as they earn $15 million and $10 million a year, respectively, in endorsements.
Representatives at XV Enterprises, the firm created by his brother, Robby Tebow, to handle Mr. Tebow's marketing, did not respond to an interview request to discuss the marketing potential. But one thing that might hold Mr. Tebow back from $10 million a year -- or anywhere near it -- is his very public Christian religious beliefs, not to mention that last year he appeared in a Super Bowl commercial with his mother for the pro-life organization Focus on the Family.
At least one sports marketer who marries athletes with brands said it's an issue.
"I have a brand right now that we are talking about putting a face on a campaign, and there are strategic reasons why a quarterback would make sense," said Kevin Adler, founder and president of Chicago's Engage Marketing. "But when we talk about Tebow, it doesn't make us cross him off the list but we sure do have a little more conversation about it."
Said Mr. Favorito: "I think some of the religious stuff is overblown by the media. I think Tim pulls it off just fine. I mean, there have been prayer circles in NFL and NBA games for years. The religious stuff is there because other people have chosen to put it there, more than what he does overtly."
Factors that are more likely to inhibit Mr. Tebow's ascension to the $10 million a year mark are winning, market size, the Summer Olympics and the presidential election.
"You don't always have to win the ultimate prize to be understood by the masses, but it helps," Mr. Favorito said.