Tebow could give Indy a huge economic lift

Early this NFL season, IBJ ran an article about which teams playing in the 2012 Super Bowl in Lucas Oil Stadium would have the biggest financial impact on Indianapolis.

Sports economists said the ultimate match-up might be the New York Jets versus the Chicago Bears. Two big-market teams with major fan bases that extend far beyond their city borders could drive up the economic impact by tens of millions of dollars, they theorized.

There also were votes for the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys because those fan bases were so hungry for a championship. Detroit and Chicago also were attractive because they’re so close to Indianapolis.

The conclusion was that almost any team with a major brand—like the Cowboys or Green Bay Packers—would bring a strong fan base to the Super Bowl Host city.

A month after that article ran, IBJ hosted a roundtable discussion where six of the city’s most well-known sports and tourism leaders pondered the short- and long-term effects Indianapolis’ first Super Bowl would have on the Circle City.

During that gathering, Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association CEO Leonard Hoops said something many others had overlooked: While the most immediate economic impact will come from the 100,000 fans that will come to Indianapolis to be a part of the Feb. 5 Super Bowl and the run-up to it, the biggest long-term impact may come from those watching on television and the image of the host city that is burned into their memory.

“It’d be interesting to figure out what’s the net present value of the 100 million people watching TV,” Hoops said. “I can tell you from an ICVA perspective, if it were teams from bigger media markets—therefore people from those markets paid more attention and were getting a little bit more of the message as opposed to eating guacamole and doing whatever—in theory, that could lead to a little more long-term economic value for the city.”

I like Hoops’ theory, except for one thing. I don’t think in this NFL season, the team from the biggest markets would necessarily drive the biggest TV ratings. I think the teams with the biggest, most intriguing story would.

And the biggest story this year is Tim Tebow. A very, very close second is the Packers’ undefeated run, and if it continues I think that story line could surpass Tebow.

I said could. If Denver’s streak runs deep into the playoffs (and that’s a big if right now) this story will blow up, even by NFL standards.

When I talked to sports business experts in September, no one picked Denver as a team that Indianapolis should cheer for because they would bring a major following or the big pay-off everyone here is rightfully hoping for. Of course, that’s when Tebow was sitting on the bench as a second- or third-stringer.

But now there can be little doubt that if Tebow’s incredible run (the 8-5 Broncos are 7-1 with Tebow starting) somehow, someway lands in Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL’s biggest game, there’s little doubt—in my mind anyway—it’d deliver one of the biggest Super Bowl ratings ever.

If the Tebow-led Broncos meet the undefeated Packers, Katie bar the door.

The Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Super Bowl in Texas last year drew a U.S. TV audience of 111 million, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Inc.

Yes, some people are tiring of Tebowmania. But for every one of them, there are 10 who are riveted by this unconventional quarterback who seems to have the nine lives of a cat and the strength of bumblebee wings, which according to biologists are theoretically too small to make its bumbly body fly.

Tebow is loved by many and hated by others. He’s unquestionably one of the most polarizing figures in sports right now. He is constantly surrounded by drama on the field and people can’t wait to hear what he’ll say next off of it.

If Denver miraculously slips past the likes of Pittsburgh, New England and Baltimore, I don’t think 125 million or more TV viewers for the 2012 Super Bowl is unbelievable. With Tebow playing, you’d have people who don’t even know what the letters N-F-L stand for watching the game.

When you score the kinds of TV viewership numbers the Super Bowl does year after year, it’s not easy to move that needle in a substantial way.It takes something special to do that. It takes something—or someone—maybe a little unbelievable.

May I introduce to you Tim Tebow?

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