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The ESPN Sports Poll found that Broncos QB Tim Tebow during the month of December became the 11th person to top the list of America’s favorite professional athletes since the poll launched in '94 -- and the fastest to make it to No. 1. Three percent of respondents ages 12+ said that Tebow was their favorite active athlete, followed by Lakers G Kobe Bryant (2%). A total of 1,502 people were polled. ESPN Sports Poll founder Rich Luker said to THE DAILY the speed with which Tebow "made it to number one is impressive," as it took Tiger Woods three years to get to to top, Heat F LeBron James "eight years and Kobe Bryant 11 years to make it to the top for the first time." Luker noted Basketball HOFer Michael Jordan was "nearly always the favorite American athlete" from '94, when the poll was first taken, until his final retirement in '03. Woods "dominated the top spot until Thanksgiving of 2009 when his life crises were revealed," with Bryant, James and Colts QB Peyton Manning topping the list since then. Luker said, "With Tebow’s rise, it appears that for the first time in nearly 20 years there is no one dominant active professional athlete in America. I think we may be at the beginning of a time of niche stars, which could change -- and open up -- the power of endorsement and sponsorship opportunities for a lot of athletes from a variety of sports" (THE DAILY). ESPN’s Robert Flores noted Tebow topped the poll and said, “He has done and been mentioned in everything from political campaigns to parodied on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ How far can this mania go?” ("NFL Live," ESPN2, 1/11).
FAVORITE ACTIVE PRO ATHLETES (DEC. 1-30, 2011)
ATHLETE% Broncos QB Tim Tebow3.0% Lakers G Kobe Bryant2.0% Packers QB Aaron Rodgers1.9% Colts QB Peyton Manning1.8% Patriots QB Tom Brady1.5% Yankees SS Derek Jeter1.2% Golfer Tiger Woods1.1% Swimmer Michael Phelps1.0% Saints QB Drew Brees0.9% Angels 1B Albert Pujols0.9% Heat F LeBron James0.9% Real Madrid F Cristiano Ronaldo0.9%
CROSSING INTO POP CULTURE: The Tebow phenomenon continues to cross over into mainstream culture, as HLN’s “Showbiz Tonight” aired a feature titled “American Idol!” about Tebow. HLN’s A.J. Hammer said Tebow is "bigger than ‘American Idol’ and 'The X Factor’ combined. He’s even bigger than Beyonce." Hammer added Tebow is the “hottest thing going in America right now.” HLN’s Nischelle Turner noted Tebow “is crossing over into the world of celebrity big-time.” Hammer noted, “While tons of people love Tebow, he has more than his share of haters.” Turner said Tebow "has come out very pro-life” while critics claim all he does is "talk about the Lord and all he does is wear his faith on his sleeve and I just get tired of that.” Author Jo Piazza said, “Even the bad press just sets Tebow up as a martyr, which makes his fans even more obsessed with him” (“Showbiz Tonight,” HLN, 1/11).
HATER BLOCKERS: In Toronto, Steve Buffery writes he does not understand why the "cool, hip thing is to hate Tim Tebow” for some people. In sports, fans “tolerate self-indulgent jerks, even celebrate them, because they have ‘personality.’” But because someone -- who is “not the best quarterback in the NFL but has the audacity to win -- drops down to a knee and prays in public, everyone goes nuts.” Then “everyone gets crazy because the media make him out to be a huge deal.” Buffery: “It’s hate for all the wrong reasons. … People have gone out of their way to hate Tebow because they can. He’s an easy target. But if he was a loud, close-minded, idiotic party animal, he’d be the greatest guy ever. Isn’t it wonderful where our society has gone?” (TORONTO SUN, 1/12). In Minneapolis, Patrick Reusse writes anyone “skeptical of Tebow as a quarterback has been instantly labeled a hater by his fans.” And yet, among the “34 qualified quarterbacks this season, he was rated No. 28 and was the least accurate passer by 7.8 percent.” Reusse: “My view of the Tebow phenomenon is there's much less religious bigotry involved with his critics than there is religious zealotry assisting in his astounding popularity” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/12).
IN DEMAND ON SOCIAL ISSUES: USA TODAY’s Christine Brennan notes the day after Tebow threw the touchdown pass to beat the Steelers in OT, Tebow was quoted as saying that “more than one candidate asked him for an endorsement.” But to date, he “has declined.” Last month, the It Gets Better Project, which is “trying to stop suicides among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered teens, petitioned the Denver Broncos, with Tebow in mind, to join its campaign” as teams such as the Dodgers have. Brennan writes it is “absolutely appropriate that groups such as these would seek Tebow’s support and endorsement, even if one would have much more of a chance than the other to receive it.” Brennan: “When you step off the sidewalk and join the parade, as he has on religious and social issues, you open yourself to the scrutiny of the world in ways most athletes steadfastly avoid” (USA TODAY, 1/12).
FRS GETS IN ON THE ACTION: Sports drink FRS is running a full-page ad in this morning's USA Today congratulating Tebow on the team's playoff victory against the Steelers last Sunday. The ad comes after fellow sponsor Jockey put an image of Tebow on its website with the header, "Playoffs. It's Tebow Time" (THE DAILY).
Michigan's tourism promotion arm yesterday announced a three-year $4.2M deal "to sponsor the Aug. 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway,” according to Doug Guthrie of the DETROIT NEWS. The new deal “puts the Pure Michigan name on NASCAR's well publicized schedule before the season starts next month with the Daytona 500.” It also includes “naming rights negotiated separately with race broadcaster ESPN guarantying repeated national exposure through the network's television and radio promotions during the 2014 NASCAR season.” The television deal “actually costs more than race sponsorship: $2.51 million to ESPN over the life of the contract as compared with $1.87 million to the track's owner, International Speedway Corp.” Michigan Economic Development Corp. VP George Zimmerman said that being mentioned repeatedly on ESPN “extends the reach of the nationwide $12 million Pure Michigan television advertising campaign” (DETROIT NEWS, 1/12). In Detroit, Mike Brudenell notes Pure Michigan “was the title sponsor of the 2011 Sprint Cup race at MIS on Aug. 21, the first time a state's branding agency ever sponsored NASCAR's premier stock car series.” Zimmerman said, “We estimated we got about $9 million worth of promotion through our sponsorship of the Pure Michigan 400 (last year)" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/12).
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW: YAHOO SPORTS’ Jay Busbee reported NASCAR driver Kurt Busch will be “getting some sponsor love from Tag Heuer Eyewear.” The company “already has a personal-services agreement with Busch, which means he wears their product whenever he's out in public.” Now the logo “will decorate Busch's car for three races: the Bud Shootout (where it'll be the primary sponsor) and the Daytona 500 and Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas, where it will be an associate sponsor” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/11).
The Sierra Club, a national environmental group whose goal is to move the nation “away from using coal in favor of renewable forms of energy,” will sponsor Kentucky's men's basketball game against Arkansas on Jan. 17, according to Bill Estep of the LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER. The organization also will sponsor Indiana’s game against Minnesota tonight. The two contests have been dubbed the “Sierra Club Clean Energy Match-Ups.” Sierra Club Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign Coordinator Kim Teplitzky said that the sponsorship of the UK game “will cost the Sierra Club $17,500.” The Sierra Club “will be featured on the cover of the UK-Arkansas game program and will get an advertisement during the radio broadcast.” Teplitzky said that the package also includes “mentions on the radio and at the game and the right to give students materials and put on the halftime show.” She added that the UK and IU games are “the first time the Sierra Club has sponsored college sporting events to get out its message.” Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said that the Friends of Coal organization “was the signature sponsor of the UK-University of Louisville football and men's basketball games” earlier this academic year (KENTUCKY.com, 1/11). The sponsorship of the IU game cost $17,250. Teplitzky said that the sponsorships are “meant to support students on the two campuses who have been fighting university energy policies” (COURIER-JOURNAL.com, 1/10).
FOR A GOOD CAUSE: In Green Bay, Hannah O’Brien noted the Univ. of Wisconsin-Green Bay men's basketball team “will suit up in a new color in February to raise awareness of cancer.” The team will begin wearing black jerseys Feb. 4 “as part of the Black Out Cancer Initiative, a collaboration between UW-Green Bay athletics, Bellin Health and Broadway Automotive.” The jerseys will be auctioned “to raise money for the Patient Assistance Fund at The Cancer TEAM at Bellin Health, which helps patients pay for cancer treatments and daily-living items” (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 1/11).
There is a “burgeoning problem for the NFL: counterfeit merchandise sold from look-alike websites based in China,” according to a front-page piece by Gus Sentementes of the Baltimore SUN. The NFL in the past year has “filed a pair of lawsuits targeting 80 operators, mostly based in China, who were selling knock-off merchandise through hundreds of sites.” Official league merchandise “is a $3 billion annual industry for the NFL and retailers.” How many of the goods will be counterfeit “is largely unknown -- but for legitimate businesses, the underground market hurts their bottom line and costs the NFL millions a year.” NFL investigators for years “have worked with local and federal authorities to crack down on sales of counterfeit merchandise at the street level and in stores.” Teams nowadays are “grappling with the proliferation of rogue websites that promote themselves as an ‘official store’ and lure unsuspecting consumers with their polished looks.” The NFL is “pursuing many China-based operators who target unsuspecting NFL fans with websites that sell unlicensed merchandise.” NFL VP/Legal Affairs Anastasia Danias said, "If you're buying merchandise from a China-based website, you're probably not getting the real thing.” Sentementes reports even as the league “works to shut down these websites through the courts, more pop up to take their place.” In the past, NFL investigators have “cruised the streets in league cities with law enforcement officials looking to catch sellers of products that infringe on the league's many trademarks.” Now NFL investigators are also “tracking websites, ordering knockoff jerseys as part of ‘evidentiary buys,’ and working with courts and federal authorities to shut sites down.” As the Ravens prepare for Sunday's game against the Texans, league officials said that they “will have a team of investigators in the Baltimore area doing the same type of surveillance” (Baltimore SUN, 1/12).
Reebok during Sunday's Giants-Packers playoff game on Fox will debut its "first global marketing campaign featuring CrossFit," a type of workout that combines "sprinting, gymnastics, powerlifting, kettlebell training, weightlifting, rowing, and medicine ball training, among other activities," according to Jenn Abelson of the BOSTON GLOBE. The TV spot will "feature chiseled athletes, but it also aims to show that CrossFit is as much about community, confidence building, competition, and camaraderie as it is about exercise and training." Reebok partnered with the CrossFit brand, which is "based in California, in 2010 and decided to convert a brick warehouse at Reebok’s headquarters into a CrossFit 'box,'’ or workout center, with six coaches and a variety of equipment." About 425 employees are taking part in the fitness program. The success at the company's Canton, Mass., HQs -- "about 35 percent of the workforce is regularly taking CrossFit classes -- prompted Reebok to launch these programs at 20 offices around the world." Other companies, such as Google, have "expressed interest in setting up corporate CrossFit programs." CrossFit co-Founder Andy Stumpf said that the partnership with Reebok has "helped elevate the brand, especially with Reebok’s sponsorship of the CrossFit Games." The games were "aired for the first time on ESPN last year, and Reebok helped increase the purse prize to $250,000, from $25,000." Reebok also began "selling CrossFit footwear and apparel online last fall, and it expects to expand the line this year" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/11).
Tigers P Justin Verlander appeared on TBS’ “Conan” last night in part to promote the upcoming release of 2K Sports’ “MLB 2K12” and the game’s new “Perfect Game Challenge.” 2K Sports for the third year will award $1M to a user that throws a perfect game, but instead of giving the prize to the first player to achieve the feat, Verlander said the company is “going to rate the perfect games.” He noted the “top eight perfect games are going to compete in New York in a tournament style.” Verlander is the cover athlete for the game, and TBS’ Conan O’Brien asked, “Do you like how you're depicted on the cover? You look kind of like a superhero here. This is kind of neat.” Verlander: “It's me, I look great.” Laughing, O’Brien said, “You do look good. You look like you're in the middle of a hurricane pitching, but it's nice.” Verlander said of the cover image, “They did some electricity on my arm which I like. I love it. I think it's great. That picture was taken in my garage, by the way.”
RING MY BELL: O’Brien asked Verlander whether he has rituals before he is scheduled to pitch. Verlander said, “The night before, as you can tell by my amazing physique, I eat Taco Bell.” O’Brien asked somewhat incredulously, “You eat Taco Bell the night before you pitch every time?” Verlander: “Every start, yes. You're welcome, Taco Bell. But it's true.” O’Brien added, “It also results in your gameday diarrhea tradition. … You're welcome, Taco Bell” (“Conan,” TBS, 1/11).
The NBA has named the Heat as its '11 Team Retailer of the Year. The award came at the league's annual team licensing show in Las Vegas, held in conjunction with the current Sports Licensing and Tailgate Show. The Heat were named the first three-time winner of the award, having also won in '03 and '06. Sales at the team's stores at American Airlines Arena, a satellite store in Dolphin Mall and on MiamiHoopsGear.com combined for a stunning 154% increase last season.
In Green Bay, Thomas Rozwadowski noted State Farm is “offering Wisconsin residents a chance to win dinner for themselves and two friends” with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. The grand prize also includes a "Rodgers-signed State Farm championship belt and a trip for two to see the Packers play the New York Giants on the road (game tickets, airfare, hotel and food) next season.” Rodgers has an endorsement deal with State Farm and has appeared in several commercials for the insurance company (GREENBAYPRESSGAZETTE.com, 1/11).
BUILDING ANTICIPATION: In Orlando, Josh Robbins notes Magic C Dwight Howard spent part of his time yesterday prior to the team’s game against the Trail Blazers “on the campus of adidas' North America headquarters” in Portland. During his visit, Howard and company officials “talked about their plans for All-Star Weekend in Orlando on Feb. 24-26.” Howard said there would be "some kind of big celebration in Orlando for all the fans down there." Howard: "We're looking forward to having something crazy. I can't tell you guys right now, but it's going to be fun" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 1/12).
FLAVOR BOOST: Sheets Brand Energy Strips announced that Clippers G Chris Paul has joined the company’s roster of brand partners. Paul will introduce with brand’s new flavor, Mint Boost, and has directed his own commercial that launched yesterday as part of Sheets’ national Facebook competition (Sheets).
WELK THIS WAY: Patriots WR Wes Welker is growing a playoff mustache and has “teamed up with Sportiqe Apparel Co. for a limited-edition T-shirt celebrating his facial hair, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Wes Welker Foundation, a fund set up for at-risk youth living in Oklahoma City.” In addition, the Boston Herald is giving away 10 “Catching Passes and Growing Staches” T-shirts, including one autographed by Welker (BOSTON HERALD, 1/12).