Memo: The Swift Effect on The NFL

Major League Soccer needed its “Netflix moment,” and Apple TV needed more streaming subscribers. The Lionel Messi experiment delivered the momentum needed to make the deal viable for both organizations. Today, you cannot use Apple TV without seeing Messi’s face. YouTubeTV was looking for similar momentum.

NFL bosses appear to have taken notes from Lionel Messi’s debut appearance playing for Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale in July. Watching him from the stands were celebrities Kim Kardashian, Leonardo Di Caprio, Le Bron James and Victoria and David Beckham. (Daily Mail)

One of YouTube TV’s premiere products – NFL Sunday Ticket – could use a boost. Taylor Swift may be what provides it. For almost three decades, Sunday Ticket was exclusive to DirecTV, a satellite package that allowed football fans to watch games not shown on traditional cable. Last year – much like the MLS and Apple TV deal – the NFL sold the rights to the package to YouTube for $2 billion annually. For YouTube TV, it’s been a slow and steady six years of growth in relative anonymity. The YouTube product is well known, but as a catalyst for live sports? Not so much. Like the MLS bolstered Apple TV’s value proposition, the NFL is meant to bolster YouTube TV.

In the ever-evolving world of sports and entertainment, celebrities have often been used as marketing tools to attract new audiences and generate buzz around events. One such recent phenomenon that has caught the attention of the sports world is the budding relationship between pop sensation Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chiefs’ star tight end Travis Kelce. This union has sparked a fanfare of epic proportions and has ushered in a new narrative for the NFL. Swift’s loose affiliation Kelce garnered attention in a way that the NFL has desperately coveted by cluing in a younger demographic, particularly young women and Generation Z, to the league.

A shifting narrative in the NFL. The NFL has been actively seeking ways to attract a younger and more gender diverse audience. The traditional American football audience has predominantly been male, but the league’s efforts to broaden its appeal have included initiatives like alternative broadcasts on Nickelodeon and Disney+. These endeavors are aimed at engaging younger viewers and diversifying the fanbase.

Again, parallel moves have been made by MLS, which has successfully leveraged celebrity appearances to attract new fans. David Beckham and Messi attract stars like Kim Kardashian to watch their games.

Some of the biggest celebrities and athletes in the United States, including Serena Williams, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian, were part of the sold-out crowd present at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale to see Messi’s 94th-minute free kick. (Bleacher Report)

This strategic use of celebrity star power has been effective in engaging younger generations and broadening the appeal of the sport. But Taylor Swift’s impact on the NFL’s viewership has been nothing short of remarkable. Her appearance at the Jets-Chiefs game, the second NFL game she attended in two weeks, drew millions of fans from her mammoth fanbase to tune in. The results speak for themselves. The Chiefs-Bears game, where Swift made her initial appearance, became the most-viewed game of that weekend, with 24.3 million viewers. This surge in viewership was not limited to existing NFL fans, as there was a 63% increase in female viewers aged 18-49, a consumer subset that the NFL has worked to capture.

In an exceptional piece of data, Travis Kelce’s search traffic eclipsed Lionel Messi’s in America and all it took was an undefined association with Taylor Swift. The NFL is doing everything it can to monetize the association.

NFL SVP of social and influencer marketing, Ian Trombetta, acknowledged the cultural significance of Swift’s presence, describing it as a “culture moment like we haven’t seen in some time.” The NFL seized the opportunity to connect with new Swiftie fans, many of whom had never watched a football game before.

NFL games accounted for 83 of the most 100 viewed telecasts last year, according to the TV ratings firm Nielsen, and the league is enjoying record profits. But Swift’s 94.5 million followers on X, formerly known as Twitter, nearly triples that of the N.F.L.’s, and her connection with Kelce is netting the league a new cohort of fans. (New York Times)

Social media platforms were buzzing with explanations of NFL rules for these newfound enthusiasts. Swift’s influence extended beyond the screen, as the Chiefs and Travis Kelce experienced a significant boost in their social media following. The Chiefs gained 200,000 new followers, while Kelce’s followers surged by 400,000. The exposure extended to sports podcasts, with “New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce” topping the charts.

The Swiftie Effect. The NFL recognized the potential of tapping Swift’s enormous fanbase, known as “Swifties,” and they were not disappointed. Swifties turned up to watch NFL games wearing Swift T-shirts and merchandise, demonstrating their newfound interest in football.

Roku TV data revealed that Chiefs/Bears saw a 63% increase in female viewers ages 18-49 (Swift’s main fan demographic) from the Chiefs’ week prior game against Jacksonville. SIXTY THREE PERCENT. The game reached 10.2 million adults, which was a 61% increase overall, and household reach grew from 2.8 million to 4.4 million. (Front Office Sports)

Lisa Delpy Neirotti, director of the MS in Sport Management Program at George Washington University, emphasized the win-win nature of this marketing situation. She stated, “There’s no greater fan base than Swifties. And then you combine that with sports and you get a lot of interest.” The crossover appeal between Taylor Swift and NFL football has proven to be a powerful combination.

While Swift’s impact on NFL viewership has been overwhelmingly positive, it has not been without its challenges and criticisms. Some die-hard NFL fans have expressed frustration at the constant cutaways to Swift during game coverage, with complaints that it distracts from the game itself. Critics argue that excessive coverage of celebrities like Swift can dilute the essence of the sport and alienate traditional fans.

While there are detractors who decry the “Swiftie takeover” of football broadcasts, the NFL’s ability to harness the power of celebrity to broaden its appeal cannot be denied. As the NFL continues to evolve and adapt to changing audience demographics, the influence of Taylor Swift and stars like her may prove instrumental in securing the league’s future fanbase. The data shows that it’s working.

At best, the relationship lasts forever and so does Swifties’ interest in the NFL. But if the NFL is smart, the world’s most popular performer should have a permanent business role. She turned down this year’s Super Bowl halftime show; perhaps she needs a C-suite ambassadorship role instead. Messi has direct business dealing with Apple TV; perhaps, at the very least, YouTube TV can shell out whatever’s necessary to secure Swift’s largely trusted voice – whether the Kelce romance lasts or not. For MLS, Lionel Messi is the athlete and the show. Kelce is just Swift’s introduction to America’s most powerful business – the NFL.

By Web Smith | Editor: Hilary Milnes with art by Alex Remy and Christina Williams

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