A potential budding relationship is giving the NFL and the sport of football a chance to attract a more diverse audience than we have ever seen
Every week in the NFL there is something to talk about between who is elevating their play, what coach is on the hotseat, and division races. Most of these topics have a direct correlation to something that is happening on the field. This week had some of that with the Miami Dolphins epic demolition of the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys surprising loss to Arizona. But it has been an off the field story that has captivated audiences across the country: the rumors of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce dating pop music megastar Taylor Swift.
Rumors about the two dating have been circulating around since April, thanks in large part to Travis’ podcast New Heights with his brother Jason of the Philadelphia Eagles. This all came to a head this Sunday during an otherwise boring beatdown of the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium, where Swift was on camera multiple times cheering on Travis and the Chiefs next to Donna Kelce, Travis and Jason’s mother. The collective sports and media world have predictably been salivating over this story, focusing on what could be the latest American power couple. But taking a survey of the whole landscape, this intersection of sports and pop culture could be a massive advancement of popularity for the NFL and the sport of football.
The Growth of the Kelce Brand
Travis Kelce’s resume as a football player is one that young players dream of. He has won two Super Bowls, been to 8 Pro Bowls, and has been named to the All-Pro team 4 times. He is unquestionably the best player at his position in the NFL. An argument can also be made that by the time that he retires, he could be viewed as the greatest tight end of all time. Which is incredibly high praise for a position that has seen the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Gates.
Kelce is one of the players that has been the face of the evolution of the tight end position, where the expectation has shifted from a blocker that can occasionally catch passes to becoming one of the primary receiving options in an offense. It can be argued that the drafting of former Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the #4 overall draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons was influenced by the success of Travis Kelce. Kelce is currently on a streak of 8 consecutive seasons with over 100 receptions, which would be great for any wide receiver. But as he has gotten further into his career, there have been some signs that he is thinking about life after football as well.
Being a part of the media space seems to be one of Kelce’s ambitions these days. Along with his brother Jason, they run the New Heights podcast, which has been at the top of the podcast charts for weeks. Jason also released a documentary called “Kelce” on Amazon Prime that also features Travis very prominently. This brings us to the news of Travis potentially being involved in a relationship with Taylor Swift. The mere suggestion of this being a reality has resulted in an overnight 300,000 social media following boost, a 400% merchandise increase, and a spot in the top 5 of jersey sales for the NFL. This is a small glimpse into the monolith of influence and popularity that Taylor Swift wields.
The Colossus of Swift
Here is a statistic to understand the reach of Taylor Swift on social media. The New England Patriots have the most followers of any NFL team with 4.6 million. Taylor Swift by comparison has 94 million followers. On Instagram, the top NFL team by follower count is the Dallas Cowboys with 3.2 million followers. Swift has 272 million. The NFL is incredibly popular in the United States and has monopolized TV viewership, but simply put Taylor Swift is operating in another stratosphere.
Swift has a current net worth of $740 million, good for the 11th highest net worth among musicians putting her in the same conversation as legends like Bono, Dr. Dre, and Madonna. Her recent Eras Tour has been wildly successful, grossing over $300 million making it the most successful concert tour of 2023. Her achievements in music are staggering with 12 Grammy Awards, the most streamed artist on streaming platform Spotify, and 29 Billboard Music Awards among others.
Swift is also notable for her devoted fan base, called Swifties. One of Swift’s main legacies as a musician is how she has redefined the relationship between an artist and their fans. Swift has popularized a connection with her fans that has led to a fierce loyalty and traditions such as bracelet swapping at concerts. Additionally, Swift’s penchant for songwriting has influenced a new generation of musicians like Halsey and Billie Eilish that have taken to a similar music making process.
The power of Swifties comes with their devotion. These fans are known to fiercely defend Swift on social media and attack anyone that criticizes Swift. Some have noted that this fandom has bordered on toxicity, with hostility towards people from Swift’s pasts that she has urged to stop (namely cyberbullying). This sort of passion, ironically enough, translates well for football fandom, which could be a huge win for the NFL.
Expanding the Shield
In the immediate aftermath of Taylor Swift attending a Kansas City Chiefs game and walking with Travis Kelce, her fans have taken to social media to aggressively learn the game and deep dive into Kelce as much as they can. There have been accounts that have tried to explain some football plays and others that have gone as far as mapping birth charts for Swift and Kelce. To say that her fans are all in on football in the wake of these relationship rumors would be an understatement.
For all the progress that the NFL has made in recent years, its fan base still seems to be decidedly older and male. 69% of NFL fans in 2023 are men with only 19% of women considered themselves avid fans. The NFL’s highest interest level from an age perspective, were between the ages of 35-64. There remains a gap for female fans and for younger viewers. This gap can be addressed by Taylor Swift’s rabid fanbase. A fanbase that is 65% women and a catalog that is increasingly appealing to Gen Z is something that the NFL dreams of.
In recent years the league has made strides and efforts to appeal to a younger audience through social media campaigns on TikTok and other influencer marketing campaigns. With a Taylor Swift affiliation with an NFL player, these fans will expose themselves more to the game and the hope of the NFL is that they will stick around after this exposure. It cannot be overstated that this is free marketing for the league to a subset of fans that for the most part did not consider watching football. What we can expect in the coming weeks and months as the relationship between Kelce and Swift becomes more topical is the proliferation of the Chiefs, and Kelce specifically, to capitalize on.
The danger is of course, what happens if things go wrong. We have multiple examples of Taylor Swift fans going after her former partners online, so one can safely assume that in the event of a fallout that those fans may take to social media to express displeasure about Kelce and the NFL. Ultimately, Taylor Swift at NFL games and being associated with a fan favorite player is good for business if you are the NFL. It is also a positive for both Kelce and Swift as they are exposed to new subsets of fans by their association with one another. On a human level, it seems that we are all excited by this possible relationship, especially from a heartwarming story perspective. And if that means that football stadiums will become more diverse as a result of it, then everyone is the winner.