NEW YORK (AP) – Just how many television viewers tuned into Sunday’s Steelers-Broncos game solely because of Tim Tebow?
Consider the wild-card playoff matchup in the same time slot last year for a rough estimate.
In 2011, Packers-Eagles attracted what at the time seemed like a massive audience. It averaged 39.3 million viewers and earned the highest rating for a wild-card game in a dozen years, an especially impressive feat considering most shows on TV draw far fewer people than they did a decade ago.
The game seemed to have all the elements to pull in lots of eyeballs. A nationally popular team in Green Bay. A large market in Philadelphia. A lightning-rod quarterback of its own in Michael Vick. A close score.
A wild-card matchup couldn’t bring in many more viewers than that in this era, right? Well, Denver’s overtime win Sunday averaged 42.4 million viewers, an 8 percent increase. It was the highest-rated wild-card game in 18 years.
Next, Tebow and the Broncos face the New England Patriots, a highly popular team in their own right. The clubs’ regular-season meeting last month drew a huge audience.
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus figures some people who don’t normally care about football turned on his network Sunday hoping to catch “60 Minutes.” Instead, they saw a close NFL playoff game – featuring that Tebow guy everybody is talking about. No way they changed the channel, he said.
“Not many stories travel so quickly from the sports pages to the front pages,” McManus said Wednesday.
Tebow reminds him a bit of a pre-scandal Tiger Woods, who inspired non-golf fans to tune in just with his “aura.”
Speaking of Tiger, Tebow accomplished a feat in popularity even Woods couldn’t match. The monthly ESPN Sports Poll found that the Broncos quarterback was America’s favorite active pro athlete for December.
In the poll’s 18 years, only 11 different athletes have earned that distinction. Nobody ascended to the top as quickly as Tebow, in his second pro season; Woods needed three years.
The poll was compiled from 1,502 interviews from a nationally representative sample of Americans 12 and older. Tebow was picked by 3 percent, ahead of Kobe Bryant (2 percent), Aaron Rodgers (1.9 percent), Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent).
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