Tim Tebow contributed to the greatest rise in minor league baseball attendance in 23 years.
That number is quite appropriate because only one man, Michael Jordan, has done more for minor league baseball crowds than Tebow did this year. And Jordan had the benefit of playing Double-A with bigger ballparks to fill.
Thanks to Jordan, the Birmingham Barons’ 1994 season attendance of 467,868 fans, with an average of 6,884 fans per game, still stands as a franchise and league record. Although Tebow’s popularity didn’t fill that many seats, his impact is undeniable.
The Columbia Fireflies, the team Tebow played for through June 28, saw their attendance increase by nearly 54,000 fans, a 21 percent rise from 2016. The second team Tebow played for, the St. Lucie Mets, saw attendance rise by 35,803 fans, up 37 percent from last year.
And that’s just the beginning.
On the road, Tebow’s Fireflies drew a crowd, too: to be exact, 2,591 more fans than the home teams averaged against other opponents. Baseball America calculated that Tebow was worth nearly $1.6 million in additional tickets, parking, concessions and other revenue.
For the owners of the Fireflies, he was the greatest value in all of sports. The Mets paid his salary — $10,000 for the season — and the team reaped the benefits, including merchandise revenue for what figures to be one of the 20 highest-selling clubs in the minors.
In most venues, he went down the line and signed every autograph opportunity until he was finished.
Although Tebow hit just .226 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs, there were highlights on the field, including a home run in his first at-bat after he moved from Columbia to St. Lucie and an unforgettable moment when Tebow reached through the netting while in the on-deck circle to shake hands with an autistic boy during a July 29 game in Charlotte. Tebow then walked to the plate and hit a three-run home run in front of one of the many crowds packed in to see the former Heisman-winning quarterback take his shot at baseball.