Opinion: Taylor Swift is a genius at the only language the NFL understands
From joyful images of Taylor Swift lovingly embracing her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce, after his team secured another AFC Championship win, to heartwarming interactions with Head Coach Andy Reid and CBS Sports’ NFL analyst Tony Romo — who has mistakenly referred to Swift as Kelce’s wife not once but twice — the pop superstar is redefining what it means to be a football fan.
It’s become common to begin every NFL Football Sunday with: “Is Taylor at the game?” And as announcer Jim Nantz once quipped, there were times when “she was questionable all week, but it looks like it’s officially inactive” to the dismay of many “brokenhearted people.”
By simply publicly supporting her new beau, Swift has defied the idea that a “true” NFL fan must know all the ins and outs of professional football in order to be invested.
And now, with the help of her undeniable capitalist power, Swift may very well be in a position to do the impossible: Transform the NFL from a bastion of toxic masculinity into something new.
It’s impossible to deny the impact Swift continues to have on the league. Due to her in-person game day attendance alone, NFL viewership has skyrocketed — the playoff game between the Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills was the most-watched divisional playoff game in history according to CBS, raking in a whopping 50 million viewers. In total, this year’s NFL divisional playoff round averaged 40 million viewers, the highest since 1988, and Swift has brought in the highest regular-season viewership among women since tracking began in 2000.
Now that the Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl for the second-straight year in a row, sports experts are predicting the game will be the most watched live-event in human history.
In addition, ticket sales and NFL merchandise —most notably Kelce jerseys—have increased exponentially. In September, when the Chiefs took on the Chicago Bears, StubHub representatives saw a nearly 3x increase in ticket sales in just 24 hours. In the same month, Kelce jersey sales increased 400% and the tight end had one of the NFL’s top-five selling jerseys. Tickets to this year’s Super Bowl are now the most expensive in NFL history, according to SeatGeek and CBS reporting: the cheapest available at $9,858.
In total, an average of 17.9 million people watched NFL games this season — a 7% increase over last year and the highest average since 2015, according to Nielsen, a data and marketing measurement firm. Swift has generated an estimated $331.5 million in brand value for both the Chiefs and the NFL alone, Apex Marketing Group told Front Office Sports
Perhaps even more important is the new generation of Swift fans, many of them girls and young women, who are now turning their attention to football. Parents — especially so-called girl dads — have shared how Swift’s attendance has brought them closer to their young daughters. Prior to Swift’s relationship and NFL attendance, their tween or teen could not have cared less about third-down conversions and pass completions. Now, those same young women are fully invested in what is happening on the football field, one Kelce touchdown, Isiah Pacheco run, and adorable Andy Reid moment at a time. “I’m rooting for Taylor Swift’s boyfriend” is a common refrain.
Let’s be clear — a lot of women watched football before Tayvis, but this is different. The largest pop star has introduced an entirely new demographic to professional football — one the league would have otherwise had a difficult, if not impossible, time trying to reach. But for an organization with a nefarious history when it comes to violence against women, does the NFL really deserve Taylor Swift?
Since 2000, over 1,000 NFL players have been arrested. And while many of those arrests are for nonviolent crimes, acts of violence against women have been an ongoing issue within the league — among players, coaches and high-powered executives alike. What’s worse, when accusations are levied against professional football players rarely if ever are they held accountable or faced with real, substantial consequences. One 2022 peer-reviewed study published in the journal Violence Against Women found that when NFL players are accused of gender-based violence — be it domestic violence, sexual assault or harassment — their careers are not impacted.
“The top 75 percent of players didn’t really see, on average, of course, an impact from their accusation,” Daniel Sailofsky, the author of the study, told The New York Times.
The league’s terrible history is hardly a thing of the past—Just this year, the Baltimore Ravens honored former running back Ray Rice, who was arrested 10 years ago and charged with domestic violence after security camera footage showed him punching his then-fiancé Janay Palmer in an elevator. Rice struck his now wife so forcefully she hit her head on a railing and was rendered unconscious before he dragged her out of the frame.
Rice was released from the Ravens and suspended by the NFL indefinitely. He later successfully appealed his suspension, but the incident effectively ended his professional career. All charges against Rice were dropped after he completed a one-year program that included anger management.
Now, the Ravens are praising Rice for “[taking] full responsibility and accountability.” Rice says he is “not the same person I was 10-12 years ago.” The organization now hails him as a “Legend of the Game.”
That incident is but a small sliver of a fraction of the allegations levied against NFL players, coaches and executives. It’s clear from these and other debacles the league has faced, that the only language they speak is money.So for the league to benefit monetarily from a Swift-inspired image update among women and young girls seems… wrong. Especially when Swift and Kelce have provided fans and viewers with moments that defy the very idea of toxic masculinity that the NFL has arguably upheld for decades. Both Swift and Kelce seem to understand their cultural capital. Swift prominently supports LGBTQ communities and has fostered with her music public ways for girls and young women to raise their voices—with a recent Instagram post urging her fans to make their voices heard at the ballot box, Swift inspired more than 35,000 people to register to vote, according to Vote.org, a nonpartisan nonprofit.
Meanwhile, Kelce has boldly appeared in an ad for Pfizer to promote Covid vaccination and celebrates his feelings and the importance of family publicly, particularly in his podcast with his brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce. Much like the public displays of affection Kelce shares with Swift, he does not shy away from embracing, kissing and crying with his brother, both on and off the field—a welcomed image of male vulnerability and emotional maturity at a time when conservatives pine for the problematic images of virility from days long past.
Simultaneously, Kelce understands his assignment as Mr. Swift.
Mr. Swift is a man who stands at 6’ 5’’, weighs 250 lbs is happy to stand in the shadows while his partner shines in the spotlight. He’s the same man who happily spends his time making friendship bracelets for his teammates, and who humbled himself enough to shoot his shot with a woman who will always be far more successful. At a time when men like Kelce are still encouraged to Leonardo DiCaprio their way through the dating pool, the future hall of famer shamelessly shared that all he wants is to fall in love.
It’s no wonder, then, that Swift has been attacked by certain NFL fans and right-wing pundits for simply attending a NFL game in support of her boyfriend. Since her first stadium appearance, she has been wildly and falsely accused of ruining professional football for deigning to express joy publicly. And according to the most brain-wormed among us, Swift is a Soros-backed deep state operative sent to control the minds of would-be voters in the upcoming presidential election.
For some fans and conservatives, two successful professional people supporting each other and sharing in each other’s success is threatening. I think we can all guess why.
With all this in mind, it seems hypocritical at best for the NFL, as the Super Bowl approaches, to capitalize on the truly heartwarming cultural moment that, undeniably so, has brought joy to millions of fans across the country.
That said, there is the hope that the queen of capitalism and her devoted fans will do what only they can do the next time serious, credible allegations are levied against a player or executive — they take the financial power of the Swift-effect and hit the league where it hurts: Its pocketbook.
In recent years, Swift has vocally expressed her support of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — which works to better protect women from domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment and other forms of gender based violence — as well as her criticism of any politician who opposes the act. In 2020, Swift criticized Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, calling her “Trump in a wig” for voting against VAWA in 2013. And in 2017, Swift sued DJ David “Jackson” Mueller for groping her during a fan meet-and-greet. A Colorado Jury sided with Swift, and she was awarded a symbolic $1 in damages.
In a statement released following the trial, Swift said: “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this. My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard.”
So while it is hardly Swift’s personal responsibility to hold the NFL to account for how it has handled — or mishandled — serious allegations of violence against women, there’s no denying that if Swift can Swag Surf the NFL to one of its most profitable years to date, the pop star and her legion of Swifties can certainly force the NFL to say: “It’s me, hi. I’m the problem, it’s me.”