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Tebow in New York Before His Jersey as NFL Changes to Nike

Shawn Scantlebury pumped his fists and bellowed “Welcome to New York City” as he bought one of the first pieces of Tim Tebow merchandise available in Jets’ green.

“Having this guy might change the whole Jets era,” Scantlebury, a 39-year-old fan from Brooklyn, said while holding up his $24.99 T-shirt. “We want a Super Bowl.”

It was one of 200 shirts that arrived at Modell’s Sporting Goods in mid-town Manhattan the day after the Jets traded for the 24-year-old quarterback on March 21. Tebow, a Christian who kneels to pray on the field after wins, spoke today at a press conference at the team’s training center in Florham Park, New Jersey, about his faith and his excitement to be wearing a Jets No. 15 jersey this season.

Jets fans might have trouble buying replicas of his game shirt for themselves before the National Football League’s draft next month. The delay comes as Nike Inc. (NKE) replaces Adidas AG (ADS)’s Reebok as the league’s official apparel outfitter, a transition that has left many retailers without enough supply to match the sudden demand.

Modell’s had no adult jerseys, just T-shirts and children’s jerseys. New York stores in the chain sold 1,000 units the first hour they were open March 23, said Mitch Modell, president and chief executive officer.

Pre-orders for Nike jerseys will begin on April 15 and they’ll be available in stores on April 26, the first day of the draft, according to Leo Kane, the NFL’s senior vice president of consumer products.

Building Demand

“It’s OK to get everybody excited about the draft, if that means we have a couple of weeks in April where it’s not there,” Kane said in a telephone interview. “It’s fun to build up the demand.”

The league’s official outfitter keeps blank jerseys of every color on hand to be prepared for trades or players who quickly gain popularity. Reebok discontinued production because its agreement was ending.

When Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos last week, there weren’t enough orange blanks to print his new No. 18 jersey, largely because Tebow went from backup to starter and led Denver to its first playoff victory in six seasons.

Dan Sarro, a spokesman for Reebok, said last week in an e- mail that the company had to adjust its buying strategy to reflect the end of the deal and still has a majority of its NFL items in stock.

For Manning, the NFL is selling white jerseys made by its own Pro Line label until the Nike jerseys are available, Kane said.

Limited Online Sales

Because there were Jets green blanks available, the league’s online shop is now selling Reebok jerseys with Tebow’s name and number.

“It’s a limited amount,” Kane said. “We’ll definitely be faced with a decision of if we want to put Pro Line jerseys in or not.”

The Jets have no Tebow jerseys available on their own website, only T-shirts. Spokesman Bruce Speight didn’t return a voice message seeking comment on the team’s plans for Tebow merchandise over the next few weeks.

A spokesman for Nike, the world’s biggest sporting-goods maker, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the transition to being the NFL’s apparel outfitter.

Financial terms of the league’s five-year apparel contract with Beaverton, Oregon-based Nike weren’t disclosed when it was announced in 2010. Advertising Age, citing executives close to the NFL, said the agreement is worth about $35 million a year. Nike’s revenue through the fiscal third quarter, which ended Feb. 29, was $17.6 billion.

No. 2 Seller

Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player in 2007, had the NFL’s second best-selling jersey from April 2011 through February of this year, trailing only Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, according to the league. Manning’s jersey ranked in the league’s top 10 each year from 2005-2010, before dropping to 18th last season, which he missed following neck-fusion surgery in September.

Tebow will begin his third NFL season as backup to Jets starter Mark Sanchez, according to team general manager Mike Tannenbaum. Tebow’s popularity -- he was named America’s favorite pro athlete in an ESPN poll this year -- will drive his jersey sales even if he’s not always on the field.

In anticipation of Tebow’s arrival, the American Bible Society has been running a brief welcome video for Tebow on a 10-foot-by-15-foot screen outside its midtown Manhattan headquarters.

“Quarterback who never quits, meet the city that never sleeps,” the message flashes. “Welcome Tebow.”

Bible and Sports

Geof Morin, a spokesman for the 196-year-old society, which distributes the Bible and offers religious study resources, said it’s probably the first time the organization has been asked to comment on a sports-related story.

“We’re excited that Tim is seated where we are headquartered,” Morin said in a telephone interview, adding that he’s interested to see how Tebow focuses his faith in the biggest U.S. city. “How will he play that out in a highly multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-everything kind of conversation?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net, Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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