NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- University of Florida star and National Football League hopeful Tim Tebow might have just thrown a penalty flag on his own future marketing ability by appearing in an anti-abortion ad scheduled to air during the Super Bowl, say sports-marketing experts.
In an era when most athletes rarely, if ever, delve into politics or social causes, Mr. Tebow will be appearing in a 30-second spot for the Colorado-based conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The ad is expected to be pro-life themed, and is slated to air during CBS's Feb. 7 broadcast of Super Bowl XLIV from Miami.
"From a marketer's point of view, this would dramatically shorten the window of opportunity," said Drew Kerr, president of New York-based Four Corners Communications. "The last thing any major advertiser would want to do is rock the religious boat of America, because a grassroots backlash would be too costly. ... When it comes to topics like abortion, people have long memories."
Mr. Tebow is appearing in the ad with his mother, Pam, who contracted dysentery through contaminated drinking water while living in the Philippines in 1985 and was advised by her physician to have an abortion, because the prescription medication she would take would likely cause damage to the fetus. She refused, and the rest is, well, college football history.
Mr. Tebow is generally acknowledged as one of the best and most-popular college football players of his generation, a personable and telegenic quarterback who led his team to two national championships and also won the Heisman Trophy. But, depending on whether his NFL career is as successful as his college career -- and there is still plenty of debate over that -- Mr. Tebow is potentially leaving tens of millions of endorsement dollars on the table.
A concern for marketers
"I think it is certainly going to affect his opportunities for endorsements down the road," said Robert Tuchman, exec VP of New York-based sports and entertainment marketing company Premiere Global Sports. "There are people who are extremely passionate about this topic, and many of those people happen to work in corporate America in jobs that hire athletes for endorsements. It's also people who buy tickets."
John Rowady, president and founder of Chicago-based sports media and marketing consultancy rEvolution, said in an e-mail: "His promotion of his 'belief system' has built a perception throughout the league that he has a long way to mature from a business perspective, especially in the fast lane of the NFL. ... Marketers will be interested in his integrity but they will be concerned that he won't be able to help them sell their products or services."
Mr. Tebow, who is competing this weekend in an all-star game designed to showcase the talents of college football players in front NFL coaches and scouts, is an avowed Christian. He told reporters at practice for this weekend's Senior Bowl that he knows the ad will stir passions.
"I know some people won't agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe," Mr. Tebow said. "I've always been very convicted of it [anti-abortion] because that's the reason I'm here, because my mom was a very courageous woman. So any way that I could help, I would do it."
David Carter, principal of the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group and executive director of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute, said he believes that the ad itself has already served its purpose as it has broken through the pre-Super Bowl ad clutter. People are talking about it and debating the merits.
No plans to scrap spot
In a poll on FoxSports.com, 72% of the 44,000-plus responses at press time voted that CBS should air the ad.
At press time, CBS said the script for the ad had been approved, and there were no plans to scrap the spot. Nonetheless, the Women's Media Center, the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority have called on the network to pull the ad.
In a letter to CBS, the Women's Media Center wrote, "By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers."
Mr. Carter said he didn't think the ad would come back to hurt Mr. Tebow.
"Tebow should be all right because, unlike many athletes, he has been articulately outspoken and done so with a calm confidence about so many things, including his interests and beliefs," he said. "Because of this track record, he won't be as polarizing as some athletes. In this era where many consumers believe athletes will say and do anything for a buck, he may just be different. This doesn't mean that he won't alienate a number of fans or consumers, simply that many will find his consistency refreshing."
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