What happens when you bring together the world’s biggest pop star and a two-time Super Bowl champion? Lots of enthusiasm, as Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s romance showed. But in the middle of everything applauseboating and Flirting on Instagramthe situation provides useful insights into marketing – and as sports marketing expert, I know this is a topic worth focusing on. Here are five lessons the NFL and other experiential marketers can consider to improve their brands and reputations.
1) “Empty space“: Embrace audience expansion
“Because you know I love players…And you love the game!” – “Empty Space”, 2014
Great entertainment marketers know how to fill empty space. And Swift has given the NFL a unique opportunity to expand its appeal to a demographic — young women — who may not have been interested in football before. Swifties, as Swift fans are called, can’t wait to see the pop icon get romantically involved. So every time she goes to a stadium to cheer on her new lover, Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Kelce – which she has done four times in the last two months and I might do it again soon – a media frenzy ensues.
While serious football fans want to keep the focus on football, the NFL is wise to capitalize on this opportunity. After all, Swift is a very popular star: she has more charted songs (212), top 10 hits (42), and first #1 songs (five) on the market. Billboard Top 100 than any other female musician in history.
The Chiefs remain known for their winning ways and star power, and they continue to attract – and satisfy – their traditional fans. Still, Swift’s presence brought a more playful tone to the games. The usually serious Chiefs coach, Andy Reid, caught joking about the pair (“I set them up”), while memes about Swift having to leave the stadium in a popcorn machine are a next-level combination of participatory pop culture, celebrity and sports.
Audience expansion is an effective tactic for businesses, as long as marketers don’t alienate old fans by opening up to new ones. And so far, it’s paying off for the NFL: Ratings skyrocket when Swift attends a game and Kelce jersey sales also skyrocketed. This new interest in the sport is welcome, especially since the NFL’s television audiences among the 18 to 35 years old had already shown some declines.
2) “Wildest dreams»: Capitalize on the many motivations of fandom
“Say you’ll see me again/Even if it’s only in your wildest dreams.” – “The wildest dreams”, 2014
An entertainment or sports marketer’s wildest dream is to be able to attract all kinds of fans and address their personal reasons for attending. This is why marketers benefit from thinking about “psychographics” in addition to demographic appeals. This means that instead of simply segmenting audiences by demographic group – such as young women or students – marketers tailor their appeals to consumers’ lifestyles, interests, activities and way of thinking.
My co-authored research shows that committed sports fans are driven by psychological desires such as escape and building self-esteem – everyone wants to be associated with a winner – as well as social motivations such as the desire to strengthen bonds within the group and to participate in traditions and rituals.
Football is known for its intense strategies, masculine bravado and violent shots. So the Swift crossover gives NFL sports marketers the opportunity to attract new fans with different motivations. A good example is when the NFL changed their X bio (formerly Twitter) to “NFL (Taylor version)” – a nod to the identity and humor of the Swiftie group. New fans attracted by such appeals may become more serious about the sport later.
3) “You belong With Me»: let consumers feel like they belong
“If you could see that it’s me who understands you, I’ve been here forever, why can’t you see? The right place for you is with me.” – “You are with me”, 2008
When it comes to sports, especially football, some people think that this game is not for them. The NFL and the Chiefs now have a unique opportunity to spark sudden interest from a group of people who aren’t known for being football superfans. But to convert them into regular viewers, they’ll need to make sure newcomers feel a sense of belonging.
A subtle example of this type of outreach occurred when chefs used social media to welcome Swift – and by extension, his loyal fans – at “Chiefs Kingdom”. Likewise, the league has made it clear that Swifties are welcome to the standsalthough a small but strong cohort of NFL fans would they rather stay away. This open-mindedness is good for business.
4) “Love story»: exploit human co-branding and appeal to pleasure and fantasy
“You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess/It’s a love story, baby, just say yes.” – “Love story”, 2008
I am studying human marks – people, known or emerging, who are the subject of marketing, interpersonal or interorganizational communications. In the age of social media, human branding has never been more important. Having a strong personal brand is associated with more endorsements, Google searches, merchandise sales, and ticket sales. Swift and Kelce therefore reap the benefits of human co-branding.
What makes these human brands so appealing? Many Swifties are invested in Taylor’s romantic life and encourage her to find love and choose a white dress one day. This interest and fantasy takes the form of a parasocial – or one-sided – relationship in which one party invests emotional energy and time, while the other person is unaware of the first person’s existence. Although these can potentially become dangerous, in most cases parasocial interactions are a source of escape, pleasure and fantasy.
In a time of negative news and disaster, a fun and entertaining story can be powerful. And the research in our book on advertising and branding shows that sports marketers are eager to capitalize on positive calls.
5) “Exile»: Don’t just think locally
“You’re no longer my home/So what do I stand for now?” – “Exile”, 2020
One final tip for brands and marketers is to not be limited by geography. With digital commerce and social media, researchers are increasingly interested in “distant fans” who travel long distances to events. In a recent study of professional cycling fans in sponsoring sporting events, my colleagues and I found that sporting event attendees from farther away were more invested to the event and more willing to purchase merchandise. This has big implications for new fans who might travel to Kansas City to catch a glimpse of Taylor Swift.
The Swift/Kelce relationship and the NFL spotlight is an example of why it’s important to not get boxed in by geography. As a cardboard sign at a recent Chiefs game in Kansas City proclaimed: “I traveled here to see Taylor Swift!” »