NEWS OVER THE last few weeks that pop superstar Taylor Swift is dating NFL star Travis Kelce has predictably melted the internet, seen a spike in TV ratings, clogged social media feeds, crashed gossip sites and inspired some breathless commentary on morning breakfast shows. It’s a great time to be alive and Swift and Kelce should enjoy this magical period of romance and possibility while it lasts.
So far, the courtship has been great for the NFL, who’ve seen legions of Swifties engaging with their game and its social channels. In the early days of Swift-Kelce the Kansas City Chiefs’ followers grew by more than 200,000 and Kelce’s follower count went up by more than 400,000. At the beginning of October, the NFL had posted about Swift 34 times across all their social channels, generating 170 million impressions with a watch-time of more than 23 years! The game between the Chicago Bears and Chiefs saw a 63 per cent jump in viewership among women aged 18 to 49.
“It’s been honestly unlike anything we’ve seen from a regular season perspective in the sense that we have celebrities and influencers and big creators that are at games every single week,” says Ian Trombetta, the NFL’s SVP of Social, Influencer & Content Marketing. “And while it drives interest and discussion online, this was something we’ve never seen before.”
The NFL, of course, is used to having celebs and influencers donning club colours as they watch the action from boxes and private suites. And it’s not like there haven’t been relationships between players and pop-cultural figures before—the league’s biggest-ever star, Tom Brady, was married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen, after all.
But the Swift-Kelce courtship is on another level, and while still in its infancy, is begging for a catchy portmanteau: Swelce, Traylor? News on the weekend that Kelce would be joining Swift on her Eras tour in November will bring about a welcome reversal of roles, with Kelce now playing fanboy and supportive boyfriend to Tay-Tay. Expect to see pics and social media saturation when that occurs.
The reasons why media and fans are fascinated by the relationship are reasonably self-evident. On a base level this is the star football player dating the prom queen or head cheerleader; archetypal characters who make for an appealing narrative. But if we apply a marketing lens, the relationship represents the courtship of two behemoths: the NFL, America’s largest sporting league and Swift, the biggest recording artist in the world right now. And stepping back even further, it’s the union of sport and pop-culture.
For the NFL, the publicity and social impact is welcome. It will enjoy the influx of young female fans and the opportunity to hit new demographics. Given the size of the league, the NFL is probably not in danger of being overwhelmed by Swift and her fans the way a smaller sport might be—if Swift were dating a pickleball player, for example, the sport would be completely overshadowed. The NFL is large enough to absorb her fans, safe in the knowledge that most of its dedicated supporters will view the relationship as a curious, possibly bemusing sideline attraction. If the relationship were to fizzle, the NFL would continue on its merry way—pickleball, on the other hand, would be devastated.
If the relationship blossoms, it will likely follow the Brady-Bündchen template; Swift becomes a fixture at games, bringing along her celeb friends or cheering along with Patrick Mahomes’ wife Brittany. Maybe the relationship sees Swift finally accept a Superbowl gig—she’s reportedly turned down two previous invitations. If the Chiefs happened to be contesting that game the content possibilities are difficult to comprehend. If Swift-Kelce were to start a family we’d get happy snaps of the kids on field after victories. If they were to bust up, it would provide endless fodder for the tabloid sites.
The most comparable precedent for a sports/pop cultural union of this magnitude is actually not Brady-Bündchen; it’s Posh and Becks, an equally starry relationship recently highlighted in Fisher Stevens’ wonderful Netflix documentary Beckham. Becks was the biggest name in English football from the mid ’90 onwards, a great player whose huge crossover appeal made him a magnet for fashion brands.
As a player, his stature in the Premier League may not have been quite as big as Kelce’s in the NFL—the tight end is considered one of the greatest ever at his position with eight Pro Bowler selections and four first-team All-Pro selections; but Beckham was perhaps more renowned outside of his sport due to his colossal pin-up appeal.
The Spice Girls, of course, were a late ’90s pop-cultural phenomenon. Posh was regularly photographed at Becks’ games and while in a pre-internet/social media age their courtship played out in print, they were hounded by the British tabloids and paparazzi in ways that make even the current obsession with Swift-Kelce look rather tame.
It’s safe to say both Posh, Becks and the Premier League all benefitted from the union. Matrimony is historically an institution founded on the consolidation of wealth and power, if not fame. Both Becks and Posh became a bigger brand because of their union. While Beckham’s star would have continued to rise regardless of who he dated, hooking up with Posh certainly didn’t hurt it.
Kelce, who despite his stature in the NFL, was largely unknown outside of the game to casual fans has quickly become a significant pop-cultural figure. Previously oblivious fans have likely googled his name—such is the obsessiveness of Swifties it wouldn’t be surprising that if he continues to do right by the singer they’ll obsess over his stats and argue with strangers on the internet as to whether he’s a better tight end than Rob Gronkowski.
If the relationship were to go south, though, or if there was a Rebecca Loos-like cheating scandal, then Kelce would be in seriously hot water. The prospect of being targeted by a legion of irate Swifties is possibly more intimidating than being crunched by a hulking line backer.
What about Swift? It was only a few months ago that she split from the 1975 frontman Matt Healy, and then a partner of six years, British actor Joe Alwyn in April. Many will speculate that she’s either in this for the brand synergies or just wants to have a bit of fun in a high-profile rebound. To be honest, there’s not a whole lot for her to lose here… apart from her heart—it’s easy to forget amid all this talk of brand alliances that there are two human beings with feelings and emotions involved. But the fact is, while it’s possible the dissolution of the relationship could see her or Kelce nursing a broken heart, her fan base would rally around her and her unassailable brand would be unaffected.
There’s one final dynamic that’s probably worth mentioning here, just a minor thing: on-field results. The Chiefs are on a six-game winning streak and Kelce has been on a heater since Swift started showing up to his games, averaging a whopping 99 YPG (yards per game) when the singer is in attendance compared to 46.5 yards when his good-luck charm isn’t in the stands.
If Kelce continues to perform on the field for the Chiefs, as Beckham largely managed after Posh came on the scene, all will be sweet. But if he begins to falter, look out. In their rabidness, fervour and obsessiveness, there’s not much to choose between football fans and Swifties; both groups are one-eyed zealots. Imagine, for example, if the week after Kelce joins Swift on the Argentinian leg of her Eras tour, he has a shocker for the Chiefs. You know who Chiefs fans are going to point the finger at. If one bad game then turns into a run of poor form, talk of Swift being a ‘distraction’ will intensify, with analysts and sports show talking heads going to town on the couple.
Right now, Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid is pro Swift-Kelce saying, “Taylor can stay around all she wants”, after his team’s 31-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on the weekend. But just as Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t overly keen on his golden boy dating a Spice Girl, Reid might not be happy with his tight end frolicking at concerts during his down time if the Chiefs hit a rough patch.
So, Swift and Kelce should enjoy this time because the honeymoon may be… swift. There’s a lot of win-wins in a union of pop-culture and sport. There’s also plenty to lose. That’s when the pair will hope that like Becks and Posh, love conquers all.
The biggest athlete/musician couples
JLo and Alex Rodriguez
Lopez started dating Rodriguez in 2017, and got engaged to the former Yankees shortstop in 2019. In 2020, however, they postponed their wedding amid the COVID-19 pandemic—and in 2021, they called it quits for good.
Ben Simmons and Tinashe
Singer Tinashe and the then Philadelphia 76ers player Ben Simmons, and Esquire Australia’s October cover, dated for two months in 2018, shortly before Simmons was seen out with Kendall Jenner.
Shakira & Gerard Pique
This one ended badly as a listen to Shakira’s diss track, “Bzrp Music Sessions Vol. 1” will tell you. The superstar and Spanish footballer Gerard Piqué were an item for 11 years between 2011 and 2022.
Ciara and Russell Wilson
Ciara married then-Seattle Seahawks, now-Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson in 2016 after about a year of dating. The couple went on to have a daughter, Sienna Princess in 2017 and son Win Harrison in 2020, announcing in August this year that the singer is was pregnant with the couple’s third child.
Victoria Beckham & David Beckham
The OGs of athlete-musician hook-ups, Victoria Adams—Posh Spice—met Becks at a game in 1997. The pair wed in 1999, shortly after welcoming their first child. The two share four kids total: sons Brooklyn, born in 1999, Romeo, born in 2002 and Cruz, born in 2005, as well as daughter Harper, born in 2011.