For decades, professional athletes as product spokespeople has meant big business for both brands and sports figures alike. The game’s founding fathers were Joe Namath for Noxema and Beautymist pantyhose, Joe Dimagio for Mr. Coffee, and Jim Palmer for Jockey. Michael Jordan sent sports-figures-as-spokes-people into the stratosphere. And, then of course there is Tiger Woods.
So common are sports spokespeople that there seems little room for actors and models (who make their living being paid to be in advertisements) to play the game.
Tim Tebow is a recent example of a football player-turned brand. He’s endorsing Jockey and making big bucks because of it. And, the NFL must love him. In a field where the game has gone from a gentleman’s sport to a testosterone-driven match worthy of Ultimate Fighting Championship bout, Tebow is a throw-back to the All-American, good-looking, Christian-and-mother-loving athlete. His drop-to-one-knee game prayers have even made it into the vernacular—Tebowing it is called.
There is no doubt that his strong Christian views limit his endorsement opportunities. Even though it’s his sex appeal that is the allure, his religious views are at the forefront of his brand. Even with his deal with Jockey, he restricts how much skin (and undies) he shows off, and which products he will endorse, but still a recent ad image showing Tebow's bare back is being seen by some as a bit risqué, considering his religious reputation. Brands with progressive views must pass on his star-power so as not to seen associating with a spokesperson with views that contradict their own values.
And more concerning, as he is being held to a (self-imposed) higher moral standard than most, the opportunity to fall from grace is exponentially higher. He’s bound to slip up in the eye of the ever-watching media, and be sidelined like Tiger for the transgressions that all humans eventually fall victim. Particularly now that he’s been traded to the New York Jets.
In New York City, Tebow is going to be surrounded by opportunities to slip. It is a City where anything can be acquired, at any time of the day or night—simply for a price (of money or fame). Americans may be a forgiving lot, but they simply don’t forget. Tiger will be forever tainted, as will . It is only a matter of time for Tebow.
Seemingly, the only way brands can guard against his fall is to plan for it. Contracts must have morality clauses, and brands must be selective on how much the rely on his celebrity. Rather than “becoming” their brand, Tebow must always be a second, or third string player. And for Tebow’s part—moral slippage should be part of the plan. Let’s just hope he’s saved up enough money, and self-respect, to accept the sack when it comes.