Fate ended Aaron Rogers' season before he completed his first pass as a Jet. The Dolphins put up a near-record 70 points vs. the Sean Payton-led Broncos. Baker Mayfield has played like a top-10 quarterback. And still, the most surprising development in the 2023 NFL season has been *checks notes*...Taylor Swift?
You weren't alone if you tuned into NBC this weekend during the Chiefs-Jets game. The matchup marked the season's highest viewership of any Sunday Night Football game. It also marked Taylor Swift's (and friends) second appearance to view her new flame, Travis Kelcey, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end. When Swift appeared at Arrowhead Stadium the week before, Fox garnered a total audience of 24 million viewers. These accomplishments came even though the Chiefs, among the best teams in football, were playing two of the lowliest teams in the NFL. These were not marquee matchups, but things happen when Taylor Swift arrives in your town.
She brings more money into the cities that host her concerts than they earn for hosting the Super Bowl. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker credited Swift for revitalizing the entire tourism industry for the state after her stop in Chicago during her Eras tour. And, according to Dan Fleetwood, the President of QuestionPro Research and Insights, “If Taylor Swift were an economy, she'd be bigger than 50 countries.”
There should be entire marketing courses spent analyzing the example of her marketing strategy: what the pop star has accomplished and how her team has gone about it, but no one should take more interest in the current phenomena than the National Football League. While they've been the short-term surprise beneficiaries of Swift's gaze, the takeaway ought to be much broader: women belong in the football world.
For years, the NFL has neglected a core part of its fanbase, ignoring the potential instead of nurturing the possibilities to expand the brand beyond its machismo persona. Here's what they need to do so that they don't miss their Women's Era: 1. Embrace authenticity. Swifties will ride and die for their beloved icon because they see her as their own. Sitting with fellow celebs Blake Lively,
Ryan Reynolds, and Hugh Jackman? No matter. Her music and online presence have created emotional resonance. The NFL can follow suit. Encourage the coaches and players to be more accessible and relatable. Do a better job of telling their stories. Each man who steps onto the field is living out an impossible dream, but fans usually only get a trite view of what that's like. Fans of the Saints will never forget how the NFL kept montages of Hurricane Katrina on a loop over fifteen years after it happened. This lazy storytelling has to improve: more current, personal, and less overtly aimed at creating tears.
2. Look for crossover appeal. While Kelcey was unlikely to be a household name amongst a large segment of the female population, he has been a perfect vessel to launch this madness. He's handsome and charismatic. He dotes on his adorable mother. TV stations are quick to put their finger on the bleep button during his interviews. He's one of us, except way better paid, way fitter, and way more capable of pulling off the Tom Selleck mustache. Kelcey has a broad audience appeal. The NFL can use athletes like Kelcey to bridge the gender gap and show that football is for everyone.
3. Create better representation. It always matters. Women need help finding images of themselves anywhere in the game, not just on the field. Female coaches, reporters, media personalities, and executives are conspicuously absent or unfairly ridiculed. Promoting diversity (*coughs* 3 Black NFL head coaches) and gender equality within the league can help foster a sense that football belongs to us ladies also. Arguably, the most powerful woman in the world has given a gift to the NFL, showing that there are circumstances to pull women more visibly into the arena.
4. Provide community. The NFL can create content and events catering to female fans' interests. Examples include women-centric football clinics, better female-focused merchandise, and content that highlights the stories and experiences of women in the sport. Community among female fans can strengthen their connection with the NFL. Creating forums, social media groups, and support networks can help women connect with others who share their passion for football. Take a lesson from Swift's rabid fanbase dominating social media. They've made events where they create friendship bracelets together; they stay up for album launch nights; they search any and everything for possible easter eggs into the life of Taylor Swift, all in the community they've made together.
It might be hard to see when the spotlight glare from primetime games is shining, but outside of the Southeast, football is dying. Every year, fewer kids are electing to play. It's time to pivot or become boxing of the 21st century. As she's done in cities around the U.S. all summer, Swift is throwing the NFL a lifeline.