While the national media attention surrounding Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is nothing short of frenzied, Tebow Mania is even more pitched in the home market of Denver. As Tebow—with his unorthodox approach to football and exuberant, not to mention polarizing, religious faith—continues to lead the Broncos to victory, the region’s viewers simply can’t get enough of No. 15.
“He’s the biggest story, not just in the NFL, but in all of sports,” says Lionel Bienvenu, sports director at KMGH Denver. “We’re chasing the guy—and the stories surrounding him—every day.”
The season looked like a washout in Broncos-mad Denver as recently as mid-October. But the team went on a roll after Tebow was named the starter. Suddenly, Coloradans are drawing comparisons to a legendary Broncos QB, John Elway.
But unlike Elway’s late ’90s Super Bowl teams, which were expected to steamroll opponents, local TV news execs say the current team’s success snuck up on everyone. “You want to watch every time,” says Tim Wieland, news director at KCNC, who calls the local love for Tebow “insatiable. They seem to win a different way each time.”
Local reporters are suddenly forced to jump into a media scrum on Wednesdays and Sundays—when Tebow is made available—and battle for quotes with feature talent from ESPN, CBS Sports and Fox Sports. Fueling the attention is not Tebow’s “reliably vanilla” interviews, as Wieland puts it, but the QB’s unconventional skills (few quarterbacks who carry the ball frequently in college find those skills useful in the NFL), his knack for heart-stopping comebacks, and unflinching religious beliefs. The young star’s habit of kneeling in prayer on the turf has become known as “Tebowing.”
Amidst the ceaseless culture wars in the U.S., Tebow’s frequent references to his “Lord and savior” are cheered by some and derided by others. “His faith is a very large topic of discussion,” says Michael Langley, news director at KOAA Colorado Springs.
It all makes for a media sensation, with ancillary stories dotting the Denver newscasts, such as people arranging their Christmas lights to spell his name, fans photographing themselves “Tebowing” and even stories about church attendance on the rise thanks to the QB. KUSA sports anchor Drew Soicher recently defended Tebow’s right to express his faith in an on-air commentary. “We got more feedback on that than most things got in the last month,” says news director Patti Dennis.
KCNC is enjoying the ratings boost on Sundays; Broncos games showed a 28.6 household rating/57 share through Dec. 11, up from 26/53 last year, with a bigger bump in adults 25-54.
Colorado news vets say Tebow has enough goodwill in the bank to sustain a few substandard performances. And they hope Tebow Mania continues into the playoffs. “A lot of the newscast is gridlock in government and the slumping economy,” says Wieland. “So when there’s a positive story in the community to report, it’s an exciting thing for our newsroom.”
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