'Tebow Effect' Paid Off For Sally League Clubs
Tim Tebow has brought in tens of thousands of extra fans to South Atlantic League games this year.
Tim Tebow has been promoted to the Florida State League and has played his last game in the South Atlantic League. On pure baseball terms, it’s fair to say that a 29-year-old outfielder who hit .220/.311/.336 is as forgettable as a prospect could be.
But at the box office, Tebow is the greatest star the South Atlantic League has ever seen.
When we first wrote about the “Tebow effect” on fan attendance a little over a month ago, we calculated that Tebow was worth roughly 2,200 fans per game whenever the Columbia Fireflies hit the road. Since then, the Tebow Effect grew.
In comparing what teams have drawn in games where they played host to Tebow teams versus the rest of their home schedule without Tebow, it now appears that Tebow was worth 2,591 fans per game when the Fireflies were on the road.
To explain it more simply, there are 14 teams in the Sally League this year, but through Tebow’s final game on June 25, nearly one of every four fans who have walked through the gate at a Sally League game has done so to see Tebow’s Columbia Fireflies play.
Hagerstown drew 22,578 fans for its four-game series hosting the Fireflies. In its other 30 dates, it has drawn 29,081 fans. Hickory drew 17,500 for Tebow's four games (4,251 per game), more than doubling the 1,957 fans per game they have drawn otherwise.
“It was packed outside our office in the overflow of our parking lot,” Hagerstown manager Patrick Anderson said. “It was lines everywhere. They were there early for BP for as much (of Tebow) as they could see. It was crazy.”
The only analogy that works for what a Tebow appearance is like is the attendance spike teams get when an all-star caliber big leaguer makes a rehab appearance. But those rehab appearances are usually one or two games. Tebow brought similar crowds for half a season, throughout the league.
Using the rough estimate that each fan coming to the ballpark will spend $22 between their ticket, parking, concessions and other purchases (a number used by different minor league operators as a per capita estimate), Tebow has been worth roughly $1.59 million in additional revenue for the rest of the Sally League. And that’s not counting Columbia. If Tebow was worth even 750 extra fans a night for Fireflies games (a conservative estimate, but the Tebow-effect does decline as fans get more chances to see him), he has been worth more than $600,000 in additional revenue so far for the Fireflies.
"The only way I can answer that is when you call me back a year from the day he gets moved up," Fireflies president John Katz said. "It’s hard to be accurate on this stuff. We know that our online sales, a lot of which is from out of town (purchasers), is substantially up."
The Mets paid Tebow a $100,000 signing bonus when they signed him. Financially, he’s earned the South Atlantic League teams that back a multitude of times over. Now, the Mets themselves have benefitted from sales of Tebow jerseys, but they weren't benefitting directly financially from ticket sales until Tebow joined the St. Lucie Mets, which are owned by the big league club. Tebow has yet to play his first game for St. Lucie as the team was off on Monday and was rained out on Tuesday.
All these numbers are still underestimating the Tebow effect. As Lexington Legends president and CEO Andy Shea explained, the benefits will last long after Tebow and the Fireflies left town. The Legends now have added scores of names of ticket buyers to their ticket database that they would never have been able to market to otherwise. Now, those fans may be enticed to come out to other games. There’s the brand recognition for teams that comes from traditional media and social media coverage of Tebow. And there are other long-lasting effects.
"I'd be willing to bet every team in our league uses photos from Tebow games with packed ballparks for ticket brochures, pocket schedules, digital photos, etc., for years to come,” Shea said. "Plus I think Tebow literally spent every spare second he had pre- and post-game signing autographs and signing pictures. Those people will be fans for life and probably remember those experiences forever. Tough to put a price on that."
Minor league operators have long noted that teams don’t advertise their own players as a big attendance draw, but there have long been exceptions to that. When Stephen Strasburg pitched in the minors, it was a guaranteed sellout, but that was once every five days. Bryce Harper brought a significant attendance bump wherever he played as well. But in attendance terms, the Harper road show was not nearly as successful as the Tebow effect.
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The only player who has come close to matching Tebow’s ability to draw fans night after night is Michael Jordan, who turned Double-A Birmingham into one of the best draws in baseball in 1994. Birmingham's attendance dropped back the next year, but it still drew 30,000 more fans than it did before Jordan arrived–some fans who came out to a minor league game for the first time decided to come back again. While Tebow may be leaving the South Atlantic League, his effects will be felt for quite a while.