Taylor Swift Jan 28, 2024; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift (center) walks off the field after the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC Championship football game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Some fans are being too loud about Taylor Swift attending the Super Bowl… and, no, it’s not the Swifties. It’s the overwhelmingly male fans who believe that Swift’s presence is somehow “ruining” football even though the viewership numbers (and sales) suggest otherwise. For these fans, Swift’s Antihero lyrics ring especially true: “It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem, it’s me.”

If this was a movie, Swift’s relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce couldn’t have been scripted better. It all started when Kelce attended a Kansas City stop on the Eras Tour in July and shot his shot (and missed). Although Kelce couldn’t manage to give Swift a friendship bracelet he’d made for her with his number on it (jersey or phone number? “You know which one,” Kelce told his brother, Jason on the New Heights podcast later that month), the pair started going out together in September.

Since then, Swift has been somewhat of a staple on NFL Sundays, becoming entrenched in both a rom-com plotline and a sports fan’s dream as Kelce and the Chiefs try to win the Super Bowl this Sunday. Swiftie or not, it’s an entertaining storyline. That it could end in a fairytale ending—Canadian sports books are even cashing in on the press featuring prop bets based on whether or not Kelce will propose at the end of the game–makes it all the more enticing.

However, not everyone is happy with Swift’s presence at NFL games—including prominent names in sports media. In September, Chris Russo said that he “doesn’t care if Taylor Swift is nude in the box,” in commenting about the Swift/Kelce romance, while Skip Bayless called Swift a “distraction” as the Chiefs hit a two-game losing streak in December. Barstool Sports podcast hosts Dan Katz and Eric Sollenberger had even harsher words. “Taylor Swift is a problem for the NFL,” Katz said back in October. We have to unite as a group of fans. We can’t let this happen. She’s got to stop going to games.” Sollenberger agreed: “She’s bad for football.”

Swift is bad for football? The numbers couldn’t disagree more. Since Swift’s attendance in September, the Chiefs have experienced record sales attendance and viewership. In total, Taylor Swift has generated a whopping $331.5 million through TV, in online, radio, and print media exposure. Kelce’s net worth and social media presence have risen sharply and numbers across the NFL are at an all-time high.

Sunday’s Super Bowl between Kansas City and San Francisco is projected to be the most-viewed in NFL history thanks to Swift’s added fandom. The so-called Swift Effect is so profound that Super Bowl ad space will be more prominently filled with ads for women-centric content like health and beauty products this year. If the Barbie movie, Women’s World Cup, Eras Tour, and Renaissance Tour taught us anything last year, it’s that the value of the female dollar is strong.

Perhaps this is why Swift has found allies in other prominent names in sports. Former Patriots coach Bill Belichick weighed in on her budding relationship with Kelce in September, saying “Travis Kelce has had a lot of big catches in his career. This would be the biggest.” More recently, Pat McAfee defended Swift to his viewers, saying “The most successful woman on Earth right now happens to be dating the greatest tight end of all time who’s in the current dynasty. Why’s everybody so mad about it? I’m sick of people being mad about it.”

Last week, Colin Cowherd pointed out the hypocrisy of the situation, noting that male celebrities like Drake, Eminem, and Matthew McConaughey are often featured at games. “But a talented and beautiful woman is on the air, one who would never pay attention to lonely men, and it bothers them,” he said on The Herd With Colin Cowherd. “This says nothing about Taylor Swift. It says everything about the men bothered by it.”

Perhaps most succinctly, Charles Barkley had a message for spiteful fans: “If you’re screaming at T-Swift saying she ruined [football], you’re just a loser or a jackass.”

Taylor Swift at the Chiefs' Christmas Day game.
Dec 25, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Entertainer Taylor Swift cheers during the first half of the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL seems to agree with Swift’s supporters–and the return on investment is astronomical. Swift’s total airtime is estimated at less than 25 seconds out of three-hour NFL broadcasts, and, as Cowherd pointed out, it’s a common practice to showcase celebrities who attend pro sports games.

Considering that a 30-second Super Bowl commercial will cost about $7 million in 2024, showcasing Swift is a no-brainer for the league–and evidence that the NFL is geared toward sustainability and paying attention to its longevity. Leaning into Swift’s presence is easy money for very little work and it’s also helping to grow the game in a new demographic, as Swift has inspired a newfound interest in NFL football in young girls

When Swift first showed up at Arrowhead Stadium in September, the female 12-17 group was the only demographic to increase in viewership (by 8.1%) as the Chiefs played the Bears in Week 3, and viewership across the same demographic rose 53% in the first three broadcasts of Sunday Night Football that featured her. Swifties followed the Chiefs throughout the postseason as well, as viewership for the playoffs against the Bills saw 50.39 million viewers for the biggest audience for an NFL divisional playoff game ever. The conference championship against the Ravens had an audience of 55.47 million, breaking a new record as the most-watched AFC Championship Game in NFL history.

Perhaps more importantly, videos posted by parents on Instagram and TikTok show young girls flexing their football knowledge. One such video overlaid with the text “She started watching football with her dad because of Taylor Swift and now she’s an expert” shows a dad asking his daughter “What’s a tight end?” “what’s the shotgun formation?” and “What’s your favorite Taylor Swift song?”–all questions she answered without skipping a beat. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a surge in women working in college and pro football in 10-20 years thanks to the exposure Swift is offering her younger fans today.

So it’s no exaggeration to say that Taylor Swift is the best thing to happen to the NFL in years. So why are so many fans upset that she’s enjoying herself and supporting her boyfriend at games?

Perhaps it’s because Swift sheds light on what sports would look like if they were viewed through the female gaze–contrary to sexist beliefs, women don’t watch sports because we think the players are cute. Like Swift, plenty of women watch sports because we enjoy doing so, and it’s fun to watch other women do the same. Plus, Swift is an icon and idol to many women. In an industry that so often sheds the spotlight exclusively on men, it’s nice to have some representation, even in the press box.

And perhaps that’s the overall problem for disgruntled male fans: sports programming has always been designed for and catered toward men. After all, women’s sports programming only receives about 15 percent of coverage on major sports networks and about 80 percent of employees in the sports industry are men. To many men, women are welcome in sports only if they stay firmly within their assigned boxes: objectifiable cheerleader, doting mother/wife, or secondary sports reporter (but only if she doesn’t talk too much and is attractive enough to ogle at). Swift not only transcends these roles, but she demands attention wherever she goes, and it’s unusual for so much discourse to be centered around a woman in such a male-dominated league. 

Oct 22, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Recording artist Taylor Swift and Brittany Mahomes cheer during the second half between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe because of masculinity norms, men don’t like the fact that there will be friendship bracelets at Super Bowl parties this year. Maybe they don’t like hearing possibly the greatest tight end of all time being referred to solely in terms of his relationship with Swift as “Taylor’s boyfriend.” Maybe it’s irritating to hear that a woman “put him on the map.” Perhaps they don’t understand that when secure men like Kelce invite strong women like Swift into their lives, gender norms tend to subvert themselves.

Who better understands this dynamic than ESPN analyst Mina Kimes? On Pablo Torres Finds Out, Kimes shared her experiences of sexism as a football analyst. “For me, a lot of the misogyny or resistance I’ve encountered over the years has been men feeling suspicious of, ‘Why is she here? What credibility does she have? I must know more,’ etc…the impression I get is that people are annoyed with the idea of other fans being allowed into their space. I don’t think most men who watch football games are really upset by the fact that they’re showing Taylor Swift for two seconds. I think they’re upset with the idea of what it signifies — ‘Oh, other people are now being allowed in here?’ — or the product is being diluted in some ways. I think that’s kind of a different phenomenon.”

To Kimes, the issue isn’t so much that Swift is on display at games. As she alludes to, certain types of fans are welcome and shunned in sporting contexts. The dads, Brads, and Chads have no problem seeing a retired, drunk, shirtless, loud Jason Kelce, who has over a decade of NFL experience, enjoying the game. He’s earned his place, the logic goes.

But for Swift, who, in the eyes of male sports fans, lacks such credibility, to “invade” their stadiums is heresy. And the worst part is that experience and expertise aren’t the remedy for women here. Even Kimes, who has roughly 10 years of experience as an ESPN analyst, has had her credibility questioned because she’s a woman in a traditionally male space.

Swift has a song about this very dynamic. In The Man, Swift expertly illustrates the kinds of restraints women face in society generally, and sports, with all their traditionalism and masculinity norms, only amplify these dynamics. “I’d be a fearless leader/I’d be an Alpha type,” Swift sings of her hypothetical universe in which she was a man. Kimes can probably relate.

So, if Taylor Swift is “ruining” someone’s Super Bowl experience, don’t start ranting about the same old bitter things this Sunday. Because the NFL is moving forward with or without the dads, Brads, and Chads. The facts are clear – the NFL is more popular than ever before, reaching new people, and growing new fans in new demographics, and the Chiefs specifically are setting ratings records. It’s not a coincidence that it just so happens to coincide with the presence of the world’s biggest pop star as part of the story.

The sports industry doesn’t need more bias toward women–there’s enough of that as is and the Swifties aren’t going anywhere. Neither are women in sports, whether they’re fans, coaches, refs, athletes, photographers, reporters, or any other litany of positions that are available to them with no help from the kind of people who are angry at Swift’s presence.

Fittingly, Swift has another lyric for her haters: “Why you gotta be so mean?”

About Katie Lever

Dr. Katie Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current freelance sports writer whose work has appeared in Global Sport Matters, Sportico, Extra Points, Forbes, and other outlets. She is also the award-winning author of Surviving the Second Tier, a dystopian novel about the dark side of the college sports industry, available on Amazon. Follow Katie on Twitter and Instagram: @leverfever.