Conor J. Culloton, Intern
As our effort to help the Ricketts family win approval for their $500 million plan to save Wrigley Field continues, we are reminded that politics and sports often intersect in the open forum of 21st century American public opinion. But at least we haven’t appealed for presidential intervention.
The University of Florida Gators brand, like any successful Division I college football program, is powerful boasting an $80 million, ten year TV contract, the fifth highest revenue in the NCAA in 2012, and three BCS National Championships. It is no wonder, then, that the Gators have a powerful presence in northern Florida.
Seventy miles northeast, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a foil for the Florida Gators. Where the Gators have a rich history dating back to the 1930s, the Jaguars entered the NFL in 1995 and have yet to play in a Super Bowl. Over the past few seasons, abysmal performance has resulted in dwindling fan support in an already small market for professional football. Bears fans may remember the chorus of “Let’s go Bears” that rang out during the fourth quarter of Chicago’s victory over the Jaguars last season. This explains why Jacksonville was the least valuable NFL franchise following the 2012 season.
Enter a third brand: Tim Tebow.
During the 2011 season, University of Florida graduate and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow became a household name as he led the Denver Broncos through the playoffs with his patented religious fervor that earned him respect, criticism and indifference from myriad media outlets. After an injury-marred and otherwise unsuccessful 2012 season with the New York Jets, Tebow is a free agent.
Moved by an allegiance to the nearby Florida Gators, and Tebow’s status as a northern Florida native, Jaguar’s fans have filed a petition addressed to President Obama via the White House website, urging him to “Call NFL Jacksonville Jaguars GM David Caldwell and tell him to stop ignoring the Jaguars fans and sign Tim Tebow!”
Neither the general manager, nor anyone else in Jacksonville’s management, has expressed any interest in or intent to sign Tebow, despite the fact that the fans have promised a spike in ticket sales and sold-out stadiums in exchange for the deliverance of Tebow to his native region.
Where sports, politics and branding collide, odd predicaments emerge. What if President Obama were to call the Jaguars’ management and urge them to sign Tebow? Would Caldwell be compelled to listen and take action? It says a lot about contemporary culture and how fans perceive themselves that the President’s higher authority was sought by eager Jaguars’ devotees. Fans filing a petition and using the federal government to encourage their team’s management to take action calls to mind a question that the ownership staffs of all sports teams grapple with: do the owners and managers take action to please the fans or to gain revenue, or does one follow the other?
In the end, decision makers in Jacksonville’s front office will have the final call. Caldwell must ask himself: is it good for the Jaguars brand, if nothing else, to take on Tebow? It may be worth a shot to boost fan-generated revenue by piggybacking on the successful University of Florida and Tim Tebow brands. The move could catapult the team into relevance, even if Tebow never makes large and meaningful on-field contributions to the team.
If points on the board determine the course of action David Caldwell and President Obama will take, it is easy to predict what will happen. As of Monday, May 6, the petition has 329 signatures. Die-hard fans are too small in number. Perhaps, like Tebow, petition leaders need to go over the President’s head.