It’s not often that it must be acknowledged that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was right about something.
But his assessment Tuesday of the degree of effect one superpower in American culture (Taylor Swift) is having on another (the NFL) was as accurate as an Adam Vinatieri clutch field goal.
During his annual Super Bowl Week press conference, Goodell was asked about the record-setting viewership for the conference championship games, both of which drew more than 50 million viewers, and whether the staggeringly popular Swift’s newfound association with the NFL — she is in a relationship with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce — had provided a significant boost, particularly among young females.
“I would tell you that it’s because of the great competition,” said Goodell. “The competition has been off the charts this year. Seventy percent of our games have been within one score in the fourth quarter. The young stars, the older stars, the amazing performances by teams, you see all that. That’s what fans ultimately love.
“Having the Taylor Swift Effect is also a positive. Both Travis and Taylor are wonderful young people. They seem very happy. She knows great entertainment. And I think that’s why she loves NFL football. I think it’s great to have her a part of it.
“Obviously, it creates a buzz. It creates another group of young fans, particularly young women, that are interested in seeing why is she going to this game, why is she interested in this game. Besides Travis, she is a football fan. And I think that’s great for us.”
It is great for the league. Of that there is no doubt. Swift is practically an entire economy on her own. Apex Marketing Group recently estimated that her equivalent brand value — the amount of money that would have to be spent to receive an equal amount of media exposure to what the Chiefs and the NFL have received across various forms of media since she started attending Kelce’s games Sept. 24 — was more than $330 million.
She has an impact in an individual sense, too. In January, Swift wore a custom Chiefs jacket, emblazoned with Kelce’s name and No. 87, that had been designed by Kristen Juszczyk. Juszczyk ended up landing a coveted licensing deal with the NFL. (She is the wife of 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, whose team plays the Chiefs Sunday.)
But the full measure of the Swift Effect is difficult to gauge, because the NFL is enjoying a run of overwhelming dominance in the sports, television, and even marketing landscapes that began before she ever set foot in an Arrowhead Stadium luxury box.
Ninety-three of the top 100 television shows in 2023 were NFL games — up five from 2022. Sunday’s Super Bowl almost certainly will be officially the most-watched of all time — a designation that currently belongs to Super Bowl LVII between the Eagles and Chiefs just last year on Fox and Fox Deportes, with 115.1 million viewers. (The “officially” is necessary because Nielsen, which measures viewership, has been including out-of-home data — such as people watching in bars — only since 2020.)
The NFL did enjoy a noteworthy uptick in viewership this season, averaging 17.9 million viewers for regular-season games, a 7 percent increase from last year and its best since 2015, which averaged a record 18.1 million. Female viewership increased 9 percent, giving the league its best numbers on record among women.
But per Sports Business Journal, it wasn’t just women who were watching in larger numbers; the NFL saw increases of 4-10 percent across all key demographics, with overall male viewership up 9 percent.
The Swift Effect on Super Bowl advertising also is real, but the full measure is hazy because of the NFL’s established relative ease in selling ad space. (A 30-second spot on CBS’s broadcast Sunday costs an estimated $7 million, up slightly from last year’s game on Fox.)
CBS has sold out its entire inventory of advertising spots, and some new advertisers — L’Oreal and e.l.f. Cosmetics — target female consumers. Dove also has bought advertising time during the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years. Last year, there were no national in-game commercials for health and beauty products.
Those products would seem to target Swift’s fan base. But CBS executives were touting as far back as late August that the network had sold Super Bowl spots to several new advertisers, and noted then that it had already sold 90 percent of its ad inventory. Perhaps Swift’s association with the league convinced certain advertisers to ante up that $7 million for a spot when they might not have done so previously. But the ads were going to sell out no matter who bought them.
Jon Lewis, whose deep dives into the data of sports viewership on his website SportsMediaWatch.com are invaluable, provided the clearest-eyed view of the Swift Effect during a recent conversation.
“Do I think that Taylor Swift is driving viewership in terms of, are there people who have watched games and watched them for longer than they might have otherwise? I definitely think that is true for a number of folks,” he said.
“Does that mean Taylor Swift is the biggest draw on the NFL, the biggest driver and more important than anything? Does that mean that young women are watching the NFL in ways that they’ve never watched it before? I don’t.”
Lewis noted that, among other data points, the Patriots’ 35-point loss to the Cowboys on Oct. 1 drew more viewers in the female 12-24 demographic than the anticipated Chiefs-Jets game in New York later that night, in which there was suspense about whether Swift would be in attendance.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that there are some dads who are now watching football with their daughters who had never done it before,” he said. “Like Homer and Lisa in that episode of ‘The Simpsons’ from 30 years ago, right? But there were already many, many dads and daughters watching.
“Every single solitary demo, every demographic you can think of, watches the NFL. It is the only communal viewing experience in the country, no matter who you are, even if you’re one of the most famous celebrities in the world.”