259,000 people tuned in to watch NFL player Travis Kelce date 50 women on the premiere of his E! reality dating show, “Catching Kelce,” in 2016.
Apparently, Kelce only needed to date one to attract an audience of 27 million.
That woman, of course, is Taylor Swift. And all she had to do was simply attend an NFL game to break national television ratings records.
On Oct. 1, when Swift made her second appearance in the stands (this time with friends Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Hugh Jackman and Sophie Turner) to watch the Kansas City Chiefs tight end, who is her new reported beau, she brought an average of 27 million viewers to NBC and Peacock. The game against the New York Jets ranked as the most-watched Sunday program since the Super Bowl, spiking female viewership by more than 35%. Nielsen says 53% more teenage girls watched Sunday Night Football than last season, thanks to the pop star’s attendance.
The week before, when a red-lipped Swift made her first surprise NFL appearance when the Chiefs played the Bears on Fox, essentially confirming her linkage to Kelce, footage of her cheering “Let’s fucking go!” as he scored a touchdown ignited a media firestorm.
Heading into the Week 5 game — where it’s unknown if Swift will be in attendance to cheer on the Chiefs as they take on the Minnesota Vikings — the chatter has not slowed down.
Kelce’s profile has jumped exponentially, ever since being linked to Swift. Kelce gained more Instagram followers after Swift’s televised appearances than he did after all three Super Bowls he played in… combined.
“I was on top of the world after the Super Bowl, and right now even more on top of the world, so it’s fun man,” Kelce told reporters at a post-practice press conference on Friday, explaining that he’s still getting used to the paparazzi and attention. “You’ve got a lot of people that care about Taylor, for good reason. So, just gotta keep living and earning and enjoying the moments. At the end of the day, I’ve always been pretty good about compartmentalizing and being able to stay focused in this building and I’ll just keep rolling with that.”
Today, Kelce is officially the most popular athlete in America. He is also one of the most in-demand celebrities in the country right now, per new data obtained by Variety. Parrot Analytics, which compiles research based on Wikipedia, Google, social media and more, found that since Sept. 25, the day after Swift attended the Chiefs-Bears game, Kelce has become the third most-searched public figure in the U.S, only behind Beyoncé and — you guessed it — Swift.
“I think all of us have been surprised just how much attention has been placed on the story,” says Ian Trombetta, senior VP of social and influencer marketing for the NFL. “We have celebrities, big influencers and creators at games every single week. We had Kim Kardashian help us launch the halftime show announcement with Usher earlier that morning, so we’re talking about some of the biggest names on the planet. But what’s been interesting is the fascination around, ‘Is there a relationship there?’ and ‘How does that all work out beyond just Taylor showing up at a game?’ That storyline has really fed this global surge of attention.”
Jersey sales with Kelce’s name and number have skyrocketed 400% since the Swift effect set in. “New Heights,” the podcast Kelce co-hosts with his brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, is No. 1 on Spotify and Apple and added more than 200,000 YouTube subscribers in two weeks. And if you’re wondering who the second most-searched sports figure is in America this week — it’s Jason Kelce.
It’s no secret that Swift is good for business. And there’s no doubt that the NFL — and every other affiliated network, product and individual — is reaping the benefits.
But, how much is too much?
“Is the NFL overdoing it? Take away your feelings for Taylor Swift,” Jason Kelce asked his brother on their podcast this past week (which clocked 990,000 views in 48 hours). Travis responded, “I think it’s fun when they show who all is at the game. But at the same time, they’re overdoing it a little bit for sure… Especially my situation.”
Friday, he backed that up in a press conference, adding, “Whether I think they’re overdoing it or not, I know I brought this to myself. I’ve been fortunate enough to have fun with it.”
Indeed, coverage surrounding the NFL has centered around Swift more than the games over the past two weeks. The league caught some heat from football fans when it changed its TikTok and Instagram bios to incorporate Swift. But that’s all part of the social strategy for both the league and the sports networks. In fact, NFL posts on average of 1,200 to 1,500 times per week across platforms.
“When we find these real-time moments, we like to have fun with our audience, and in this case, we’ve seen literally millions of Taylor Swift fans coming over to the NFL social channels to engage with us and to have fun,” says Trombetta, noting that they are monitoring all of the feedback. “Hopefully we can have fun with it and do it in a way that it’s not over-commercialized or going too far.”
Aside from the possibility of alienating fans, the NFL exec says that maintaining respect for Kelce and Swift’s privacy is of the utmost importance.
“You’re not going to see the NFL team sitting outside of Taylor’s house in New York or sitting outside of Travis’ [home],” Trombetta adds.
It’s not just the NFL that’s capitalizing off of the new romance. A once-in-a-lifetime superstar, Swift’s level of fame showcases the power of celebrity and the culture-defining impact of Hollywood.
During the Week 4 primetime broadcast, NBC was all in on Swift-mania. Cameras cut to the pop star at least 17 times, and commentator Mike Tirico was sure to welcome the Swifties at the top of the game. In-show footage panned to Cornelia St., a little-known street in New York City that is the subject of one of Swift’s songs, as if it were as recognizable as Radio City Music Hall. Nobody does Easter eggs like Taylor Swift… except maybe the NFL.
Even before the game, NBC promoted the broadcast primarily through Swift’s pending appearance, with social media gameday materials featuring the singer’s signature friendship bracelets and the official promo set to the tune of her hit, “Welcome to New York” — which NBC then touted in a press release —garnered over eight million views. When tweeting out the promo, they captioned it, “Taylor Made for Sunday Night.”
Fox also used Swift-isms in their ratings press release, announcing that the Week 3 game “swiftly scores” the most-watched telecast of the week across networks. (They also used an “Afterglow” pun, for those hardcore fans paying attention.)
Network sources tell Variety it’s not likely that a network’s publicity team would seek approval from Swift to use her name in a press release — she is a public figure, after all. But, it does appear that the NFL has not gone totally rogue in its promotion of Swift.
Variety has learned from a source close to NBC that the network got clearance to use “Welcome to New York” mere days before the Week 4 game — and that Swift and her team approved the use of the song in the promo. NBC declined to comment, but the timeframe of the music licensing indicates that Swift had some say in the network using her music to promote her appearance. Swift’s team did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
An ESPN spokesperson declined to discuss whether Swift would be part of any upcoming promotional or in-game plans for Monday Night Football, but spoke more broadly, telling Variety, “We love Taylor and her music, and are always looking for ways to work with her.”
“She’s a marketing genius,” ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith said on a broadcast this week. “Being in NFL games, that ain’t helping you? Don’t you got a movie coming out? Didn’t you make $6 billion at a concert? You know what you doing.”
Certainly, if more of Swift’s music that she owns is licensed throughout the football season, she’ll be cashing in — not that she needs to. The biggest star on the planet, the NFL needs Swift more than she needs them. Because, well, she doesn’t need anyone.
Still, any press is good press, and Swift knows that football games get more eyeballs than anything else on television. (Just look at the MTV VMA ratings — a programming event in Swift’s world — that recently attracted 3.9 million viewers with her in attendance, compared to NBC’s Sunday Night Football audience of 27 million.) During NBC’s broadcast last weekend, a commercial aired for Swift’s Eras Tour movie. This week, AMC Theaters announced that presales for the upcoming film surpassed $100 million.
While Swift fans are embracing their newfound love for football, some NFL fans are turned off by the excessive coverage. In all fairness, you can’t turn on a sports show without hearing her name.
“Not hating, just saying the NFL is taking away from the game with all this BS,” one fan commented on social media. “Happy for them, but I’m watching football.”
Erin Andrews, who has been a sports reporter for more than two decades, went viral after she asked Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in a post-game interview what he thought about Swift being at the game.
“Yeah, we all want to hear from the best player in football about someone else’s relationship,” a commenter posted on clip of the interview.
Speaking to Variety, Andrews shares her excitement for bringing new fans into the NFL, pointing out that typically new female viewers only tune in for the Super Bowl, often because of the halftime show.
“Football is my life, so I love that we’re bringing more fans in. The NFL does, as well,” she says during a Zoom interview. “We’re getting so many casual female viewers into our world. It’s been awesome. This is a dream for everybody involved.”
Andrews continues, “NFL has been very candid and open, especially with somebody like me, about how we want to get female viewers. We have them, but how can we get casual viewers?”
When asked about her interview with Mahomes, Andrews says that no producer or boss directed her to ask about Swift. She is a reporter, after all, and she knows what will make news — and to keep the conversation about the game until the last question.
“That wasn’t the focus of my job or my reporting. I’m still on the Chiefs sideline, so we’re trying to talk about how Patrick Mahomes is trying to get all these wide receivers involved,” she says. “I mean, we’re in the business of entertainment. It’s fun. Patrick is a friend. It was never a focus of ours, like, ‘How do we showcase her? How do we make this a big part?’ It wasn’t something where we were like, ‘Okay guys, coming out of break, we’ve got to show Taylor!’”
And as for the negativity, she’s been doing this too long to let haters get under her skin.
“What I’ve learned in this industry, you can’t take that so seriously,” Andrews says about the negative commentary. “I really honestly haven’t had time to pay attention to any of that. I’m gonna quote Bill Belichick: ‘I’m onto Rams-Eagles right now.’ This is what I have to worry about.”
Andrews, who is the founder of her own female apparel line called WEAR, witnessed the effects of Swift’s power first-hand. When Swift attended the Bears game, she was wearing a Chiefs windbreaker in photos that were blasted around the world. The windbreaker wasn’t from Andrews’ line, but similar WEAR products flew off the shelves anyway.
“Our windbreakers sold out the next day,” she says. “Our sales have gone through the roof with Kansas City.”
A proud Swiftie herself, Andrews also co-hosts the “Calm Down” podcast with fellow NFL broadcaster Charissa Thompson, which saw a surge in downloads thanks in part to its Aug. 3 episode, where Andrews asked the 12-time Grammy winner to give Kelce a chance romantically. (He thanked them for the nod via Instagram comment.)
Andrews reveals that she has sent WEAR products to Swift, in hopes that she’ll wear her line. “I hope to God she puts something on that we have that we’ve sent,” she says. “Her fans, they’re so powerful. They just want to get close to whatever she’s associated with. I find it fascinating.”
The journalist adds, “She put a spotlight on the sport. Let’s embrace it.”
Earlier this week, Page Six, possibly for the first time in its 46-year history, dedicated the entire column to Swift, changing their header to read “Page Swift.”
“’Page Swift’ was an irresistible opportunity to capture the current cultural vibe — and nobody’s better at this than Page Six. Love her or not, everyone is talking about Taylor right now, from locker rooms to boardrooms,” says Ian Mohr, editor of the NY Post’s gossip column. “We haven’t seen a figure who’s dominating the cultural conversation as much as she has, especially in such a fragmented landscape.”
On Friday, the Kelces’ mother, Donna Kelce — who ignited international headlines two weeks ago when she was seen on Fox’s Sunday Night Football broadcast getting chummy with Swift — embarked on a mini press tour to promote her new limited-edited Kind Bars, dubbed “Donna’s Purse Snacks,” her latest brand deal after starring in a Campbell’s Chunky Soup ad with her two sons, in the pre-Swift days.
During her interviews, “Today” show hosts fawned over the NFL mom, as they pretended not to prod into her son’s life, but desperately tried to get any tidbit of info for the Swifties. Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb even surprised her with “Today” show friendship bracelets, a nod to the singer.
According to CNN, Donna Kelce won’t be traveling to the game (instead, watching from a bar with multiple screens) and it remains to be seen if Swift will grace the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as Kelce’s team takes on the Vikings. The savvy businesswoman she is, perhaps she will let the conversation die down for a moment.
Regardless of her attendance, fans are already lining up the NFL’s schedule with Swift’s tour schedule, noting that the Chiefs’ bye week lines up perfectly with the singer resuming her world tour. The star will be performing in Argentina and Brazil from November 9-19, but she’s got an open date on Nov. 20, which is the rematch of the Kelce Bowl, when the Chiefs play the Eagles on Monday Night Football. Fast forward even further to Feb. 11, 2024: Swift could just make it to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl if the Chiefs compete for a third championship (and she wants to squeeze in the game between her Tokyo and Melbourne tour dates.)
“All I can tell you is that the NFL is laughing all the way to the bank,” Kelce’s mother, Donna, said on the “Got It From My Momma” podcast this week. “They’ve told me personally that the Kelce family has done more good PR for football than they could’ve paid a million dollars to a PR firm.”