Worlds Collide – but is the NFL coverage of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce too much?

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Few things get covered more than sport and celebrities. In America, they don’t much get bigger than Taylor Swift and the NFL. This week has seen a crossover that has enchanted the US media. As someone who is a big NFL fan and a top 0.5% listener to Taylor Swift, it has been impossible to escape. Every blank space on my social feeds was filled with videos of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce with his new girlfriend and the world’s most famous popstar Taylor Swift. 

‘Swifties,’ and NFL fans have been brushing up on the other side all week, so here’s the love story. Kelce went to one of Swift’s concerts at his home stadium and was upset that he didn’t get to meet her. The two began quietly hanging out, before Kelce invited her to the Chiefs game against the Chicago Bears. Swift attended the Arrowhead Stadium and the man in the red 87 jersey got his touchdown as the Chiefs blew out the Bears. The romance was confirmed after the two were filmed leaving together in their own getaway car.

You could be forgiven in thinking the Chiefs-Bears game was the only NFL game that weekend. According to Fox Sports, the game had over 24 million viewers, the most of any game over the week. YouTube, Instagram and Twitter were in overdrive covering the story. It was cool at first, before it got a little dated, followed by people praying for any other content. This wasn’t a one-off either, Swift attended the next Chiefs game against the New York Jets, in which there were 13 camera pans to Swift during the game! 

This is a “pop culture moment,” as the Kelces put it. And it isn’t new.

The reaction was a little bit more hostile now. Ignoring the blatant misogyny of some NFL fans, the gist of it went ‘I would like to see more sport and fewer celebrities.’ It didn’t help that Swift brought friends like Ryan Reynolds, Sophie Turner and Blake Lively to her box. This led to a discussion on Travis and Jason Kelce’s (Travis’ brother) podcast, ‘New Heights.’ I think he knew about the discourse, and he was quoted saying the NFL was “overdoing” its coverage. The NFL even mentioned the relationship in their social media bio. 

Before we discuss whether the coverage is indeed too much, we need to understand why it is happening. Some of the discourse is aimed at riling the two fanbases up to generate engagement. Pitting these two against each other or discussing their ‘likely breakup’ is just the media’s way of weaponizing misogyny for monetary gain and running with the ‘slut-shaming’ narrative that has followed Swift’s whole career. This relationship may last, it may not, but the reporting needs to steer clear of past problematic practices. 

This is a “pop culture moment,” as the Kelces put it. And it isn’t new. This is the style of reporting and marketing that lands pages and the NFL huge profits. People following pages such as Bleacher Report or House of Highlights will know this all too well. Sports stars such as LeBron James, LaMelo Ball, Megan Rapinoe, Dillon Brooks or Patrick Beverly have a delicate mix of having lots of highlights, being loved by many and hated by even more. Comments on these posts often involve blind support or extreme hostility. But crucially, they have insane levels of engagement. The masterminds behind these posts lap up the comments knowing the algorithm is thriving.

Taylor Swift and American Football combining is a gold mine for everyone involved. In their wildest dreams, the NFL couldn’t have seen a bigger monetary opportunity. Kelce’s shirt sales have increased 400% according to the BBC, there was a huge spike in female viewership according to Fox and Swift’s global audience will flock to the NFL. This is a huge success for the league. If people weren’t so bothered by the content, there would be less engagement and the content would slow down. Any publicity is good publicity as they say.

This coverage is not necessarily a bad thing. I want new fans of the NFL with whom I can interact with and new fans of Swifts’s music. This leads to both, and they have more in common than they realise. The end game for the NFL is to use this news story to build the league’s status as a global sport, leading to more opportunities and revenue streams abroad. The anger from hardcore NFL fans unhappy with more ‘casuals’ and less attention on the game itself is just a champagne problem. Accepting celebrity influence and new viewership is vital to the growth of the NFL. The Kelces had a wonderful section to their podcast, known as “no dumb questions.” The act of normalising new audiences being given help and education, without judgement or mansplaining was refreshing to see. Everyone’s a winner. 

Jason Kelce hit the nail on the head with what the NFL networks can do to make the ‘traditional’ fan feel more appreciated. He talks about basketball’s clean celebrity coverage method, stating “they show them once or twice a game, then it’s back to the game.” American Football is the show, Swift is just the audience. This is better for fans and celebrities alike.

It seems TV, social media and the league are scrambling to profit from this a tad excessively. This is inevitable, but some slight changes can be made to make each stakeholder feel valued. Social media is going to milk this, so enjoy the content, and don’t nibble at the attempts to rile the public. TV networks need to give the fans what they want. Pull the fans in with the headline of Taylor Swift, before highlighting how amazing your sport is. Get these fans addicted so they stick around, even if Swift isn’t in attendance or the frenzy has died down. Most of all, the NFL just needs to play it a bit cooler about its relationship with celebrities. A bit of moderation would go a long way. They need to calm down. 

Image: All Pro Reels via Wikimedia Commons

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