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Upfronts / Newfronts

Tim Tebow Makes the Case for One of ESPN's Hottest New Offerings

Sponsors Already Lining Up for Football-Heavy College Property

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Credit: ABC/Ida Mae Astute

He's back. ESPN trotted out Tim Tebow as the new face of its SEC Network launching Aug. 14 during its upfront presentation Tuesday.

The former Heisman Tropy winner at Florida was one of the sports figures used by the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports to woo ad buyers on Madison Avenue. Others included Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, Matt Harvey of the New York Mets and tennis legend John McEnroe. Plus, an array of on-air ESPN talent such as Michelle Beadle, Keith Olbermann and Scott Van Pelt.

After his brief NFL career fizzled out, the two-time national champion took the path trod by many ex-jocks and coaches and signed as a TV analyst with Disney's all-sports network.

On Tuesday, ESPN used the former SEC star as the face of the new 24/7 cable network that will be dedicated to the powerful, football-driven Southeastern Conference.

Dressed in a snappy light grey suit, Mr. Tebow chatted on stage with "Mike and Mike" anchors Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. On the giant screen behind them, ESPN flashed beauty shots of Mr.Tebow-as-TV analyst. A seemingly star-struck "Greeny" took a selfie with the strapping QB.

For SEC fans, football "is not a game, it's a way of life," Mr. Tebow told ad buyers. He promised the new network will offer "in-depth" coverage of every SEC school, from recruiting and rivalries to the biggest games.

The planned network will telecast approximately 45 SEC football games, 100 men's basketball games and 60 women's basketball games.

Not surprisingly, the soft-spoken Mr. Tebow endorsed the creation of the first College Football Playoff, which will be televised by his new employer. "It's going to be awesome," he said. Dr Pepper has signed on as presenting sponsor of the four-team playoff, which will replace the hated Bowl Championship Series.

The only problem for ESPN? Mr. Tebow still hasn't given up his ambitions of playing quarterback in the NFL after stints with the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Denver Broncos. Given the lack of interest around the league, however, Mr. Tebow could be poised for a long TV career.

Mr. Tebow is one of the most popular -- but widely debated -- athletes of recent years. Many fans were inspired by his humble but muscular Christianity. Remember when "Tebowing" was a national craze? On the other hand, critics didn't like the way he wore his religion on his sleeve. They were particularly annoyed when he starred in a pro-life commercial with his mother on the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Ed Erhardt, ESPN's President of Global Customer Marketing and Sales, said ad interest is strong for the network's upcoming coverage of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. ESPN will premiere a new six-part series tonight, "Inside: U.S. Soccer's March to Brazil," which will take viewers to the team's training camp.

"The fact that we're closer to the event now, it just continues to build," said Mr. Erhardt about ESPN's World Cup coverage in June.

The SEC Network, meanwhile, is attracting sponsors such as AT&T, Bell, Regions Bank, Chick-fil-A and Dr Pepper, he said. "There seems to be a lot of interest."

ESPN employed the marketing theme "Always On" at the upfront to try drive home the message that the network and its associated TV, radio and digital channels are seemingly always on somewhere in a consumer's life, whether at home, the dorm, the car or the nearby sports bar.

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