Mired in a 3-11 season, rookie quarterback Tim Tebow’s first start as a Denver Bronco might have come at a tough time for his team, but for Carl Sweat, CEO of the nutritional supplement company FRS, the timing couldn’t have been better.
Today Tebow announced that he has entered into an endorsement agreement with FRS. Tebow will appear in television ads for FRS, including an upcoming spot during the college football championship game on January 10, as well as promotional activities in print, live event, and online media. Tebow has also become a part-owner of the company in an arrangement that has become increasingly common between beverage companies and their endorsers. Nevertheless, Sweat insisted, the timing of the announcement, while uncommonly fortunate, was unintentional.
“I’d love to say it’s like ‘of course you were that smart,’ but we were planning to announce this week anyway,” Sweat said. “We have had faith from the beginning about what he could do, whether he was a starter today, tomorrow, or down the line, we believed he would be a significant figure and have a great career. But we couldn’t have planned on it this fast.”
FRS, a fast-growing sports and nutritional supplement line that has a growing beverage footprint, has a previous relationship with L.A. Laker Guard Derek Fisher and also is best known for its promotion by iconic bicyclist Lance Armstrong. According to CEO Carl Sweat, the company’s chief interest in Tebow came when they learned at a trade show that Tebow was a user of the product from a GNC store owner in Gainesville, where the quarterback played college ball.
“The most important thing is that Tim believed in FRS,” Sweat said, adding that at the NFL Scouting Combine last spring, “He was drinking the concentrated product straight. So he’s really interested in developing the product and he wants to be able to provide his thoughts and feedback.”
In a move that indicates how potent the online and social media side of beverage marketing has become, the announcement for the deal came from Tebow himself through his Twitter feed and Facebook page.
“We wanted to let Tim alert his networks in ‘Gator Nation’ and ‘Broncos Nation’ first,” Sweat said. “It’s really an important part of what we’re doing.”
As part of the coordinated social media effort, Tebow is directing his followers to the FRS web site, where the company has set up an opportunity for fans to donate to Tebow’s foundation.
The deal is an external one that follows some of the changing internal dynamics at FRS, where the company left DSD distribution houses to start warehouse delivery with PepsiCo’s Tropicana unit.
The brand has fought hard over the past few years to establish a strong retail presence. FRS has long spent most of its marketing cash on Internet campaigns based around Armstrong and the need for energy filled by its key ingredient, the powerful antioxidant quercetin. FRS is planning an expanded media campaign in early 2011, with the Tebow advertisements and endorsements from a 13 year-old who recently climbed Mt. Everest as lynchpins.
Tebow, a popular college star because of his athletic achievements and squeaky-clean image, has found the professional ranks to be a tougher challenge than his early career at the University of Florida. The fleet-footed quarterback came out of college with an unorthodox throwing motion that left some pro coaches skeptical of his future at his favored position when he left Florida to enter the draft. But with Broncos starter Kyle Orton on the bench because of an injury, the first-round pick got the starting nod over fellow backup Brady Quinn. Tebow both threw and ran for touchdowns in a Denver loss Monday.
While he believes that Tebow will help FRS grow as a brand, the addition of a player with Tebow’s University of Florida pedigree does come at some personal cost for Sweat himself, as he is a graduate of the University of Georgia and a longtime fan of that school’s football team the Bulldogs, who have a fierce rivalry with the Gators.
“He ragged on me from the start,” Sweat said of Tebow. “And he has proceeded to do that every chance he can.”