NFL logo on a football

Brand Breakdown: Taylor Swift Sets NFL Records

RJ Licata, Sr. Director of Marketing

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27 Million

Last year the NFL scored Rihanna to deliver the most-watched halftime show in the game’s history. This year, it has a new female pop legend on its roster: Taylor Swift.

In terms of marketing, The Swift Effect is real. Taylor doesn’t just boost numbers, she brings the sort of loyalty and engagement that brands crave.

According to Google Trends data, consumer interest in the NFL has been surging since Taylor Swift began attending Kansas City Chiefs games to cheer on Travis Kelce. In December 2023, fans searched for information related to the NFL 27 million times, an increase of 46.7% compared to December 2022.

December search interest in the NFL surged to a record high

Source: Google Trends

Google Trends data for January 2024 reveals that search interest is on pace to set an all time record. And if the Chiefs make the Super Bowl, you can bet this will shatter all viewership records.

The record-setting continues

According to Marketing Dive, female viewership of games has skyrocketed. The Chiefs vs Bears game was the highest-rated game that week for women aged 12 to 49.

Viewership by women aged 18 to 49 rose 63% compared to the previous Chiefs game. 53% more teenage girls watched Sunday Night Football than last season.

Variety reported that Interest in Travis Kelce also exploded. Kelce gained more Instagram followers after Swift’s televised appearances than he did after all three Super Bowls he played in.

Search interest in Travis Kelce jerseys briefly surpassed interest in Chiefs jerseys, leading to a 400% increase in sales for jerseys bearing his name.

Source: Google Trends

Then, Travis Kelce’s podcast, New Heights, became the most streamed podcast on Spotify and Apple and added more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Source: Google Trends

There’s no denying the impact Taylor Swift has had on the NFL. But is it sustainable?

Capitalizing vs connecting

The NFL and its TV partners have been launching strategies to reach new audiences for years. They’ve partnered with Nickelodeon to attract younger viewers, planned games in Germany and the UK to reach international audiences, and streamed games on platforms like Prime and Peacock to account for changing consumer behavior.

But nothing has galvanized attention and expanded their female audience the way Taylor Swift’s appearances have. So far, the NFL hasn’t fumbled the opportunity to keep her fans interested. Take the Chiefs vs. Jets game, for example:

  • The game promo video was set to Taylor’s song “Welcome to New York”
  • Cameras cut to Taylor Swift sitting in a box watching the game 17 times
  • The NFL temporarily changed their TikTok and Instagram bios to reference her

In other words, the NFL is doing everything it can to intercept Swift’s star power — and for good reason. Swifties are one of the largest and most devoted fan bases with high levels of participation.

But is the NFL taking advantage of Swift’s stardom to court her audience? Will Swifties forget football if Taylor moves on? How can the NFL convert interested new fans into fandom?

How the NFL can convert Swifties into super fans

Swift’s presence triggered a media blitz, boosted Google searches for the NFL higher than Super Bowl levels, and catapulted Travis Kelce into stardom.

But the NFL hasn’t yet tapped into the valuable long-term opportunity to reach Swifties (and other new audiences) who are ready for meaningful connections.

$18.6 Billion

Statista reported that the NFL and its 32 teams brought in $18.6 billion in 2022 through sponsorships, media partnerships, ticket sales, and concessions. That’s the power of cultivating super fans. Unlike retail brands, the NFL sells experiences that are powered by connection, passion, and unwavering loyalty.

But that level of engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a deep understanding of consumer needs to nurture new audiences. And thanks to Taylor Swift, the NFL has a deep pool of potential fans to activate.

Swift’s public passion for the Kansas City Chiefs has ignited the curiosity of millions of her followers who previously weren’t football fans. But the power to convert them into lifelong fans lies with the NFL.

Swifties aren’t here for the football — yet

Although there has been a historic increase in female viewership across the last few football games, many of those new audience members aren’t watching because they love football, they’re watching because they want to be a part of the Taylorverse.

As it turns out, Swifties and football fans are driven by similar desires.

In her article for Adweek, Christina Garnett explains that Swifties love being part of something bigger than themselves, and they’re dedicated to supporting an artist who has been there throughout every season of their lives.

Similarly, football fans are community-oriented, they’re loyal to the end, and they’re willing to spend money to support their favorite teams year after year.

It seems like Swifties are a perfect fit for football. But to ensure they keep coming back even if Taylor doesn’t, the NFL must build a new type of community.

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Owned Asset Optimization (OAO) | The Foundational Guide

May 1, 2023 Read Article

Creating space for new audiences

By listening to their new fans, and understanding what information they are looking for online, the NFL can build the right type of online communities and content to keep their newfound fans engaged and feeling like part of the team. 

The core elements of a good reception marketing strategy revolve around the idea of listening to the signals consumers are sending.

By listening, and responding with relevant, useful content, the NFL can easily meet the needs of its new, and existing, audiences with quality content that naturally supports, guides and includes consumers along their online journey.

Connecting with new football fans

The NFL does an amazing job of keeping super fans engaged with news, scores, stats, interviews, and merchandise. But what about new fans who don’t have a favorite team or might not know the difference between a running back and a wide receiver?

New fans might feel like outsiders trying to decode a foreign language while watching a football game — especially if they’re watching with long-time fans. That feeling of exclusion could be enough to keep them from converting.

If the NFL wants to build more authentic relationships with new fans — whether Swifties, kids, or Europeans — it’s critical to make them feel comfortable, included, and welcome. They can do that by publishing basic football 101 content that explains the game to new audiences in a highly engaging way.

Terakeet analyzed 24.2 million annual searches to find out which brands and publishers are answering basic football questions like:

  • How many NFL teams are there?
  • How long is a football game?
  • How many points is a touchdown?
  • What does a tight end do?
  • What’s the difference between a running back and a wide receiver?

Although the NFL performed well from a market share perspective, the brand is losing ground to publishers that are doing a better job of explaining the game to new audiences.

Market share of NFL vs competitors
Source: Terakeet

Media brands and publishers like Wikipedia, Rookie Road, Merriam Webster, and vIQtory Sports all excel at connecting with new audiences asking basic questions about football.

What does a tight end do answer box

In fact, vIQtory Sports has an entire learning section on its website dedicated to educating new fans about football.

vIQtory Sports Football Learning Center

This presents a prime opportunity for the NFL to leverage its massive team of influential sports personalities and subject matter experts to connect with fans and answer their questions.

The NFL’s MACH-6 playbook

Even better, the NFL can amplify the content they create for their own website to engage audiences across multiple marketing channels. Let’s look at a potential play using Terakeet’s Marketing Asset Control Hierarchy (MACH-6).

NFL's MACH-6 playbook football
Source: Terakeet

Customer Personas: Create personas for new fans that leverage organic search data to understand their needs as well as the journey they take from new fans, to engaged fans, to super fans.

Website(s): Use the insights to improve the website experience, and build additional websites as needed, to support these new fans and help them feel like part of the team.

Website Content: Create pillar content, such as blog posts, videos, quizzes, interviews, and interactive tools and games to educate and engage fans on the NFL website and block competitors.

Social Media: Share the most popular content on social media in new formats designed specifically for each platform to win the most attention.

Organic Search: Optimize blog posts to outperform competing websites in organic search.

Affiliates & Influencers: Leverage athletes, stars, and influencers to help create and promote content through strategic partnerships.

User-Generated Content: Build communities for new fans to nurture their sense of belonging and boost engagement. Make it easy for them to share their own experiences as new fans, host events like Swiftie Watch Parties, or offer tips for hosting tailgating events or team parties.

Not only would this expand the NFL’s online market share, it would also engage an entirely new fan base, expediting their journey to become super fans.

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