By Barry Janoff
October 5, 2012: "We believe in Tim Tebow. We want him to play football. He should be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets."
Those words did not come from Tebow's agent, loyal fans of Tebow, Jets head coach Rex Ryan or even ESPN analyst/commentator and noted Tebow supporter Skip Bayless.
They came from Dustin Cohn, CMO for Jockey International, which has put Tebow front-and-center in marketing efforts since 2010.
Cohn, speaking during the IMG Sports Marketing Symposium (under the auspices of Sports Business Journal) in New York on Thursday, explained how important Tebow has been to Jockey, and how Jockey, in return has supported the 25-year-old football player-cum-celebrity.
"We are happy with his decision to be in New York," Cohn said regarding Tebow's trade from Denver this past March. "We like where we are now, for sure."
Although it is not a big surprise for Jockey to cheer for Tebow considering that he is their No. 1 celebrity spokesman, it is unusual for companies to get involved in league and/or team politics. Cohn, however, did not shy away from the quarterback controversy involving Mark Sanchez and Tebow. "Tim should be the starting quarterback."
The Jets are 2-2 and play their next game on ESPN's Monday Night Football against the Houston Texans.
Retracing its history with Tebow, Cohn said, "Jockey took a chance by signing him," Cohn related of the Kenosha, Wisc.-based company. "People knew him [from leading Florida to two national championships and winning the 2007 Heisman Trophy], but he was an unknown entity as far as the NFL."
Now, armed with stats and sale figures, Cohn said, "With Tim Tebow, we have the ability to talk to new consumers. We have seen a rise in the quantity and quality of consumers, and have had a lot more social media buzz [about Jockey]."
"With Tim Tebow, we have the ability to talk to new consumers. We have seen a rise in the quantity and quality of consumers."
And, he stressed, "Tim is an athlete who understands the selling process."
Cohn said that Tebow's marketing strategy targets women as much as men. "Our numbers show that 40% of men's underwear is purchased by women."
Tebow earns about $5-$6 million in annual endorsements, according to industry analysts. His current marketing deals also include Nike, FRS energy drinks, EA Sports, Soul Electronics and Palm Beach Autographs. Earlier this year he signed with William Morris Endeavors (formerly the William Morris Agency) in Los Angeles, which is hanlding speaking engagements, personal appearances and marketing. He previously had been represented by Florida-based XV Enterprises, which was formed by Tebow and his brother Robby.
Although he had been selected in the first round (No. 25 overall) by the Denver Broncos, Tebow signed a three-year contract with Jockey on July 27 but did not sign with the team itself until July 29. When he did, he was down on the depth chart behind three other quarterbacks.
"No one knew if he would play or what his situation would be," said Cohn.
Jockey was buoyed by the fact that Tebow's college reputation was a catalyst in driving his Broncos' jersey to the No. 1 spot among all NFL jerseys sold between the draft in April and the end of June, according to stats released by the league.
"He transcends football," Cohn said of Tebow's off-field endeavors, including his religious and charitable alliances, that have supported "Tebowmania." So when it came time to creating a marketing campaign, "We thought of all the scenarios: If he plays, if he doesn't play, if he's traded."
Jockey's strategy, according to Cohn, was to take full advantage of Tebow's personality and the personal connection he was able to make with people. "The key was to be topical. We took him to store openings, we did [activations] where people could meet him and take photos with him."
Tebow played in nine games during his rookie season, starting three, passing for three touchdowns and rushing for six more. Jockey's first campaign starring Tebow broke in Apil 2011 to support the launch of the Staycool line. It came with a TV spot in which Tebow evoked the cool image of James Dean in a T-shirt, but also was heavy into social media and personal appearances.
Tebow began the 2011 season on the bench behind Kyle Orton, but eventually played in 14 games, 11 as a starter, compiling a 7-4 mark and helping to guide the Broncos into the playoffs. Denver and Tebow defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening round but were eliminated by the New England Patriots.
Tebow's play increased his popularity (and controversy), Jockey used to its advantage by continuing to feature him in marketing. During Denver's run to the playoffs, the company via social media destinations offered to reward consumers with $1 million in product if the Broncos won the Super Bowl.
The team didn't get there, but Cohn says that Jockey and Tebow still scored big. "We paid several thousands for the campaign and got millions of dollars worth of impressions in the media."
Jockey continued to back Tebow in March 2012 when he was traded to the New York Jets. Prior to Tebow's first press conference in New York, the company put up a billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel that read, "We support Tim Tebow & New York," alongside a photo of the quarterback.
"Not only where we part of the conversation, we actually generated new conversations," said Cohn. "The key was to be topical. It was not how we said it, but when. For a small amount of money, we made a big splash" with stories in newspapers, TV and Internet talk that focused on the ad.
Jockey advanced the Tebow marketing conversations via an alliance with ESPN and the ESPY Awards, launching a sweepstakes offering consumers the opportunity to "Staycool at the ESPYs" in Los Angeles. Again, Cohn said, "We paid a little and received a lot."
Jockey's lead agency in TPN, New York.
As they did when Tebow joined Denver, Jockey is preparing for all options regarding Tebow's future. "Win or lose, we will continue the amplification of our messages with Tim Tebow."
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