With the new year’s arrival, look for ESPN to make a lot more noise ahead of the August launch of its SEC Network. Case in point: this week’s reveal of its first college football analyst—none other than Tim Tebow. “His work ethic is unquestioned. He has incredible poise and presence. And he’s one of the most accomplished SEC athletes of all time,” said Justin Connolly, ESPN svp programming, college networks. “Anytime in my travels when I meet someone who worked with Tim, or knows him well, the refrain is similar. And that is they express admiration and note he’s a special person.”
He truly is the poster child for Mr. Nice Guy. So, how is he going to handle calling out bad plays?
“I’ve never had a hard time saying what I believed or standing up for something. Hopefully, I can continue to be that same person as an analyst in sharing what I believe about players, about teams, about games,” Tebow told reporters during a conference call Tuesday.
Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s vp, production for college nets, doesn’t seem too worried. “Tim is a very nice person, as we all know… but he’s also a football junkie,” she said. “And the best analysts teach somebody—teach the viewers about the game. I think Tim will do an excellent job with that. I am confident he’ll give opinion where it needs to be given. If criticism is warranted, I think he’ll give criticism. I think that criticism will be educated and well-thought out.”
What about Tebow’s faith? Will ESPN be willing to let him bring that into the broadcast booth? “We hired him for his football opinions and analysis of football, and his experience and view and knowledge of the SEC… And we know that’s what our audience expects from him,” Connolly said. Acknowledging that Tebow’s faith as a Christian is very important to him, the exec there is a “continuing dialog” between ESPN and the former Heisman winner.
As for the new network itself, Tebow said he’s excited to be at the ground level of something just being built. He certainly knows the SEC fanbase. No deals with MVPDs have been announced yet, and there is likely to be some unhappy fans who will find broadcast games moved to cable. “I’ve heard a little bit of the talk, and I’m sure I’ll be asked about it… I try not to worry about what I can’t control. I’m just going to focus right now on becoming a great analyst and working to understand the process and to learn from the great people who came before me,” Tebow said. He added that he’s excited to reach out to conference’s passionate fan base and give them the kind of insider knowledge that a recent player can really bring.
Connolly positioned the new channel as something special for SEC fans and those across the country. “You can just look at our decisions, whether they be on the talent side, in bringing Tim on board, or the programming announcements we’ve made about the number of live events we’re going to cover,” he said. “What we’re creating is a real value proposition to the consumers as it relates to the SEC and nationally here.”
But is Tebow here to stay? Both have made it clear that his role will not preclude him from continuing to pursue opportunities in the NFL. “I’ll continue to train to be the best quarterback I can be,” Tebow said, adding that he doesn’t think the analyst gig will impact his training. “I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been as a quarterback right now, and I hope I get the opportunity to show that. But I’m also looking forward to being part of SEC Nation and being part of ESPN.”