The Real Score: You Need to Calm Down, Embracing the Taylor Swift Effect on the NFL

Published: 02-15-2024 2:04 PM

Taylor Swift won this year’s Super Bowl. I mean… the Kansas City Chiefs won this year’s Super Bowl. If you don’t know by now, pop star Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce are dating. The relationship caused a media stir as Swift began attending Kelce’s games, bringing new attention and attraction to the Chiefs and the National Football League (NFL).

NFL’s Popularity and Viewership Statistics

The NFL is already the most popular men’s professional sports league in the United States. Research has also shown that football is America’s favorite sport to watch, with viewers watching a total of 974.9 billion minutes (whereas Major League Baseball, the next more popular in viewership was 329.7 billion minutes) over a one-year period. The Super Bowl itself is a cultural event, averaging over 100 million viewers each year since 2008. In 2023, the Super Bowl had 115.1 million viewers, and this year’s championship set TV ratings record of 123.4 million.

The Swift Effect on the NFL

Take an already popular league and bring Taylor Swift into the mix? The NFL can only grow. A study found that Swift’s association with the NFL has added the equivalent of around $330 million in brand value to the Chiefs and the League. Additionally, after Swift attended a Chiefs game in September, Fanatics reported a surge in Kelce jersey sales by 400% that week. While there are a lot of Swift critics, her presence has opened a growing market for the NFL. Women and girls aged 8 and above make up 46% of the NFL fan base, the most in men’s professional sports in the United States. NBC reported a significant 53% increase in viewership among girls aged 12 to 17 compared to previous games when Taylor Swift did not attend.

Ironies and Controversies Surrounding Taylor Swift’s Presence in the NFL

The presence of Swift for the NFL brings up a few ironic scenarios. The first is that the NFL has been able to profit from Swift’s mere presence through broadcasts and their social media channels. For a league that has a significant history of inappropriate and often disturbing mishandling of domestic abuse and sexual violence against women cases, they seem to be interested in supporting women when they can profit from their hard work. The NFL needs to reconsider their role in perpetuating gender inequity, and as their fan base grows, the demand for this type of action will only increase.

Fan Base Dynamics and Gender in NFL Fandom

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The second scenario is about the fan base. Some people will suggest those who have started watching since Swift entered the scene are not “real fans,’ only following because of their interest in the star. There have been reports of fans dismissing, excluding, or harassing those fans who seem to be involved because of their interest in Swift. My research has explored the experiences of women who are sport fans, and I found that oftentimes, knowledge is used to as a gatekeeping strategy, where women need to prove themselves before they are accepted into the fan base. This “test” is a direct contradiction to the broader narrative that sport brings people together and allows those with diverse backgrounds to feel united. While many fans may embrace the newcomers, others will look to prevent them from gaining that sense of belonging and community due to their fandom beginning from Swift’s influence.

It was suggested that NFL fans may also feel Swift is distracting or detracting from the broadcasts and news. Fun fact: an analysis has shown that she appeared for an average of 35 seconds over the three-hour broadcasts during Chiefs games, and only appeared for a total of 55 seconds (0.0035%) from kick-off to the last touchdown catch in Super Bowl LVIII.

The Swifties (a nickname for her fans) may bring a threat to the male dominated and masculine oriented nature of the NFL. A study that explored soccer and rugby in the UK found the increase of women fans has led to an idea of feminization of fandom. That is, as women and girls continue to become fans, they may engage in alternative ways of consuming sport and valuing fandom that doesn’t reflect the male dominant fan behaviors. But aren’t friendship bracelets just a showing of sportsmanship anyway?

Alas, the question arises: why is there criticism about Swifties tuning into the games, regardless of whether their interest is temporary or permanent? This influx of new fans isn’t detrimental to the NFL, the Chiefs, or the new fans’ ability to enjoy and engage with the sport and teams.

So, for those upset that Taylor Swift is bringing new fans and attention to the NFL, in her words, “you need to calm down.”

Katie Sveinson is a PhD Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts. Katie can be reached at ksveinson@umass.edu.