On Sunday, The Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship that will either send the Chiefs to the Super Bowl or, as some might be thinking about it, mark the end of “Football (Taylor’s Version).”
At least for the season.
The latter would likely please the “dads, Brads and Chads” of the world, who have taken issue with the attention being paid to pop star Taylor Swift when she attends NFL games to see her boyfriend Travis Kelce in action. But the truth is this: Leaning into Taylor mania is a no-lose game for broadcasters. So, for at least one more game, the haters might just have to, as Swift might say, focus on the players as they play, play, play.
Swift has regularly attended a slew of recent Kansas City Chiefs football games to support Kelce, the team’s superstar tight end, and broadcasters of those games have taken every opportunity to show Swift in the stands, cheering him on.
Because they can. And, ultimately, the decision on how many times Swift is shown throughout a game is up to that broadcaster, which has included the likes of CBS, NBC, FOX and ESPN – not the NFL, according to Alex Riethmiller, a spokesperson for the league.
“We wouldn’t give any direction to our broadcasters along the lines of, ‘we need more Taylor Swift or we need less Taylor Swift,’” Riethmiller told CNN. “It’s really up to the individual broadcasters in situations like this to determine what they think is best.”
By CNN’s count, Swift was shown during CBS’s broadcast of the Chiefs-Bills AFC Divisional playoff game no less than six times, which includes one cut to the singer during pregame coverage. That’s down from the reported 17 cuts to her during NBC’s broadcast of an October game that she attended to watch the Chiefs play the New York Jets.
In all, Swift has attended 11 games since September 2023, and with each appearance in the crowd, increasingly drawn what seems like as many cheers and jeers as the men on the field.
The frenzy is perhaps to be expected when the world’s biggest pop star scores an unexpected role on the highest-rated show on television. And though Swift won’t be getting an Emmy for this guest spot, there is a winner here: football.
Swift’s presence at Chiefs games has inarguably activated an audience who wouldn’t normally tune in to a football game, including numerous so-called “Swifties” who watch games they anticipate the “Anti-Hero” singer attending.
But the numbers tell us the full story.
Last Sunday’s playoff game between the Chiefs and the Bills was the most-watched divisional playoff game in history with over 50 million viewers, according to CBS. Swift was in attendance alongside Kelce’s brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce – who went viral for his shirtless celebration of Kelce’s touchdown.
The game averaged 20.2 million female viewers, accounting for 40% of the TV audience, according to Nielsen-measured stats provided to CNN by the NFL. The rise in female viewers is up compared to last year’s Cowboys-49ers playoff game in the same window, when female viewers accounted for 38.7% of the TV audience. Overall, female viewership for the 2023 regular season was up 9% from last year.
The Chiefs’ nail-biter win overall outpaced other playoff games that took place last weekend. The Ravens-Texans drew in 32.4 million viewers on ESPN, the Buccaneers-Lions drew in 40.4 million on NBC and Peacock and the Packers-49ers drew in 37.5 million on FOX.
A variety of factors could explain the record-breaking ratings spike, the main one being the high-stakes matchup between Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is widely considered the best in the league, and Bills QB Josh Allen. And, perhaps, a little bit of Swift being in the mix.
“NFL games have been drawing massive viewership for a long time so while I think it’s fair to say Taylor Swift’s presence at games creates buzz and helps build our audience around the edges, it’s the incredible play on the field that really drives the eyeballs,” said Riethmiller.
It’s true that NFL games are the most-watched shows on television, with or without Swift. The 2023 regular season averaged 17.9 million TV and digital viewers, making it the highest rated regular season since 2015, according to Nielsen data. The Chiefs-Bills playoff game alone drew in nearly five times the amount of viewers than this year’s Golden Globe Awards, which peaked with 9.4 million viewers, where Swift, coincidentally, was also in attendance.
It’s hard to say how much Swift is responsible for the NFL’s rise in female viewers, but Richard Deitsch, a sports media reporter for The Athletic, told CNN that while last week’s game was always going to be one of the most-watched of the season, “you are fooling yourself if you don’t think some casual sports fans, those who don’t watch the NFL every week, did not tune for curiosity sake regarding Swift.”
“That’s been the case for high-profile Chiefs games. We’re talking about one of the most famous people on the planet,” he added.
A love story
When Swift showed up to her first Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium in September, it was a media frenzy.
At the time, the couple had yet to confirm their romance.
As Swift attended subsequent games and made her courtship with Kelce public, some football viewers and prominent sports figures began to express their displeasure with the number of times the broadcasts would feature glimpses of Swift in the stands – including Kelce himself.
“I think it’s fun when they show who was at the game,” Kelce said on an October episode his podcast “New Heights,” but he added, “they’re overdoing it a little bit, for sure.”
Swift herself had something to say about it, too, questioning how broadcasters even know what suite she’s in.
“There’s a camera, like, a half-mile away, and you don’t know where it is, and you have no idea when the camera is putting you in the broadcast, so I don’t know if I’m being shown 17 times or once,” she said in December.
Despite a noticeable decrease in airtime during Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff game, former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber still took issue with CBS’s coverage of Swift.
“The obsession is getting annoying,” he said on WFAN’s “Evan & Tiki” radio show on Tuesday, further crediting his annoyance at the Chiefs in general to what he described as “the Taylor Swift influence.”
On the ground in Kansas City, at least, her presence has widely been embraced.
“I can’t speak to the coverage, but I can say there’s a tremendous amount of interest among the fans in her presence and her being around the team. To me, the coverage just reflects the interest,” Adam Teicher, ESPN’s Kansas City Chiefs beat reporter told CNN. “They’re not asking me about Pat Mahomes anymore. They’re asking me about Taylor Swift.”
The Big Game
Broadcasters have a history of highlighting famous people at games, so this is not a new phenomenon. This is the case especially when it comes to the Super Bowl, the pinnacle of sports and entertainment blending into one.
If the Chiefs advance to the Super Bowl on Sunday, hold on to your foam fingers. With the possibility of Swift attending the big game on February 11, it becomes a perfect storm of opportunity for CBS to show her throughout the broadcast to presumably their biggest audience of the year. (Swift is scheduled to perform an “Eras Tour” concert in Tokyo on February 10 and has not spoken publicly as to whether or not she plans to attend.)
“There will definitely be discussions at a high level about how that’s going to be handled. If indeed it happens, they’ll figure out what seems to be a reasonable amount of shots,” Jeff Fellenzer, Professor of Professional Practice Sports, Business and Media at USC, told CNN.
CBS did not return CNN’s request for an interview regarding their broadcast plans or strategy for Sunday’s game or the Super Bowl by press time.
What is a sure bet? The game – including Swifties or not – will have eyeballs.
“It’s not going to affect if they watch next year’s Super Bowl or next season’s game. So what’s the risk factor? I don’t think it’s a high one for the NFL or for CBS,” Fellenzer said.
Maybe, just maybe, everyone needs to calm down.
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