Tim Tebow Effect: How a Phenom Cashes In

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The Jesus-loving Denver Broncos quarterback is boosting ratings and racking up endorsements despite polarizing NFL fans.

This story appeared in the Dec. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

NFL quarterback Tim Tebow has become a genuine media star since being named a starter in October and leading the slumping Denver Broncos to five wins in his first six games and into playoff contention.

His penchant for praying during games and unabashedly plugging Jesus Christ during interviews -- not to mention starring in an anti-abortion ad CBS aired during the 2010 Super Bowl -- has turned the 24-year-old Christian into a lightning rod and a ratings magnet. Yahoo search traffic for Tebow now outranks that for Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers and established NFL veterans including Tom Brady.

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Broncos ratings are up 12 percent from last season's numbers. When Tebow played Nov. 17 on the NFL Network, the game was watched by 1.3 million more people than the Thursday night average last year, and its postgame show featuring a Tebow interview hit a ratings record for the network. The next day, traffic at NFL.com jumped 41 percent.

"A large portion of that growth is attributable to Tebow," says an NFL insider. The NFL Network loves Tebow so much that its commentators talk about him nonstop; it will air Playbook Special Edition: Tim Tebow on Dec. 3.

Thanks to the notoriety, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida -- a burly specimen who lacks the passing touch of most NFL quarterbacks -- can command about $500,000 annually from sponsorship deals. Bonuses tied to wins, playoffs and a Super Bowl berth could drive each past $1 million, says Jeff Marks, managing director of sports agency Premier Partnerships.

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Tebow has inked deals with Nike, Electronic Arts and underwear maker Jockey. In addition, guest appearances could net him $10,000 to $50,000 an hour.

His alignment with Focus on the Family, a Christian group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, certainly has dented his appeal in New York, Los Angeles and other liberal-leaning areas. But when former Broncos QB Jake Plummer told Tebow to stop talking about Jesus, he replied, "Anytime I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him, or, given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I'm gonna take that opportunity."

Plus, the honesty could help his brand appeal. "He did limit himself," says Marks, "but he turned a negative into a positive by coming off as authentic."