If you haven’t heard about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce by now, where have you been? Speculation surrounding the pair has been circulating since June when Kelce admitted on his New Heights podcast that he went to one of Swift’s concerts in Kansas City earlier this year but couldn’t get her attention or give her a friendship bracelet–a staple of the Swiftie fandom–while he was there.
“I was disappointed that she doesn’t talk before or after her shows because she has to save her voice for the 44 songs that she sings,” Kelce said, “so I was a little butt-hurt I didn’t get to hand her one of the bracelets I made for her.”
Since then, rumors have been flying and as of late, all but confirmed that Swift and Kelce are involved. Last Sunday when Kansas City played Chicago, Swift was spotted hanging out in the press box with Travis Kelce’s mom, Donna Kelce, laughing it up and enjoying the game. Plenty of Swiftes took note of the rumors that Swift would be in attendance and acted accordingly. Fox’s broadcast of last Sunday’s Chiefs/Bears game was the most-viewed on the weekend and although most demographic groups fell in numbers over the late afternoon Week 3 window, the female 12-17 group was the exception, rising 8.1%. Data from Roku show that the game experienced a 63% increase in female viewers aged 18-47. Swifties also flexed their spending power that’s been on display throughout the Eras tour, as Kelce’s jerseys increased in sales by 400%, catapulting him to a top-five seller in the NFL.
It all makes sense–the Swift/Kelce pairing is perfect media fodder for both entertainment and sports writers with no shortage of enticing parallels. For starters, Kelce’s birth year is 1989, which is the title of Swift’s album she announced in August that she’s re-releasing later this year. Similarly, Kansas City’s colors are red and gold, the former of which is another album title of Swift’s. There’s the irony of Swift potentially dating a football player although Swift infamously wrote in her 2008 hit Fifteen: “But in your life you’ll do things/Greater than dating the boy on the football team.” Sports broadcasters have even been sneaking Taylor Swift lyrics into their broadcasts for weeks now. And who can resist the conspiracy theories that Swift is secretly undermining Kansas City as a double agent for Philadelphia who lost to Kansas City in last year’s Super Bowl?
The headlines and stats surrounding Swift and Kelce aren’t surprising. Although Swift has generated her share of controversy in the past, everything she touches as of late turns to gold. It’s no secret that she’s a PR mastermind capable of weaving together irresistible storylines that keep fans coming back again and again–of course so many of them tuned in and paid up.
Some are calling these surges in sales and viewership the “Swift Effect,” but doing so is disingenuous. Although Swift’s presence certainly increased these numbers among female fans, plenty of these fans have been here all along. To be exact, 47% of NFL fans are women–and that’s an impressive stat, considering that although nearly half of NFL fans are women, they frequently feel unwelcome or even unsafe in the stands. Almost a quarter of female sports fans have experienced harassment at sporting events, the most of which occurs at NFL games, and these statistics explain why 55% of female fans prefer to watch games at home rather than in-person or at sports bars. Not only that, but surveys have found that 30% of female NFL fans reported experiencing the disrespect of not being taken seriously at games by being quizzed on their knowledge of the game. 20% of respondents were called a “fake fan,” 60% of female NFL fans had experienced someone “mansplaining” the game to them, and, more chillingly, 13% reported feeling unsafe at sporting events.
To make matters worse, often, when women manage to avoid sexism in the stands, we still get hefty doses of it from the media–like a Wednesday headline from the Daily Beast that read “Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce are Forcing Girls To Care About Football.” But if 47% of NFL fans are female, it’s logical to assume there’s overlap between their sports and entertainment interests. “Swiftie” and “NFL fan” are not mutually exclusive terms, but it’s often assumed that women are clueless about sports as the default. Consequently, female fans often feel shut out and patronized even when they’re knowledgeable about their favorite sports, have decades of athletic experience, or simply desire to be included in athletic spaces–the same concept that necessitated the passing of Title IX to increase access to sports for women and girls in 1972. But, as there are no legal protections for female sports fans, it’s easy to feel as if you’re walking on eggshells every time you cheer for your favorite team as a woman. The bar for women in sports–including fans–can be staggeringly high and it’s easy to feel as if you don’t belong unless you can name five players on the roster, last year’s MVP, and the blood type of your team’s coach.
In other words, it can be stressful at best and downright dangerous at worst to be a female sports fan and amid the excitement of the Swift/Kelce news cycle, it’s easy to forget Swift has been treated to a rare gift: unconditional acceptance as a woman at a sporting event. Kelce confirmed as much on his podcast on Wednesday, stating that “everybody in the suite had nothing but good things to say about [Taylor Swift]” at Sunday’s game, a sentiment that is unfathomable to plenty of women who have been victims of sexism for simply enjoying the fan experience that only sports can provide. That Swift managed to transcend the barriers that female fans understand all too well is a model for how sports fandom should be, regardless of sex, rather than a privilege reserved for some of the most wealthy and talented among us.
Plenty of women have been living in their Athlete Era for some time now in spite of the barriers presented to women across the sports industry. Taylor Swift just provided us all a high-visibility model for what it looks like when women feel welcome in athletic spaces–fun, joyous, and exciting. In spite of Swift’s star power, in many ways, she was just another fan on Sunday and that’s an enviable sight for plenty of female sports fans, Swiftie or not. Whether or not it leads to more inclusion in sports is yet to be seen. But every woman deserves the right to pursue her sports-related interests–even if one of her wildest dreams is to just be a fan. And many of us have been fans all along.