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When Taylor Swift sang, “Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone,” no one expected her to be among the 76,000 faithful at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. But there was the 33-year-old pop queen on September 24, next to the mother of two-time Super Bowl champion, tight end Travis Kelce, cheering her heart out in a red and white Chiefs windbreaker. The unexpected appearance of Swift set off the pop cultural seismographs, introducing the 33-year-old Kelce to millions of Swifties around the world. The NFL even changed its bio on social platform X to say “NFL (Taylor’s Version)” in honor of their Arrowhead assignation.
The very public rendezvous was something of a dare issued by Kelce to Swift, with whom he’s been rumored to be dating since the summer. During an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show last week, Kelce admitted that he invited Swift to the game. “I told her, ‘I’ve seen you rock the stage in Arrowhead, and you might have to come see me rock the stage at Arrowhead,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the near future.” He addressed “his personal life that is not so personal,” on his podcast Wednesday, admitting that he “sure as hell enjoyed this weekend.”
Regardless of whether the two walk down the aisle or he becomes worthy of another song in her considerable breakup catalog, the so-called Swift Effect is already paying off for Kelce. His social media following exploded over the weekend, amassing around 500,000 new followers—and it didn’t have much to do with his Chiefs’ trouncing of the Chicago Bears. More remarkable, Kelce’s merchandise sales spiked roughly 400% spike in sales on Fanatics’ network of sites, including NFLShop.com, making him one of the five top-selling players.
The spotlight is now shining on Kelce more than ever and it was fairly bright already. Kelce has appeared in commercials for State Farm, DirecTV, Bud Light, Pfizer and Campbell’s Soup, the latter of which have featured his mother and brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce. He also hosted Saturday Night Live earlier this year, following in the footsteps of other football stars J.J. Watt and Peyton Manning, and hosts a weekly podcast with his brother. (In 2016, Kelce also starred in his own E! Entertainment dating reality show called Catching Kelce that Swift may want to consult for a dating game plan.)
But as successful as Kelce is—Forbes estimates he was earning $3 million annually off the field before the Swift bump, on top of roughly $12 million on the field this season—there is still plenty of room for Kelce’s income to get a friendly Taylor bounce. After all, Swift made $92 million last year—and that was before launching her record-breaking Eras Tour. “She’s her own economy now,” says Vince Thompson, founder and CEO of brand marketing agency Melt. “She’s her own GDP.”
And being her chief playmaker comes with amplified success—just ask exes Calvin Harris and Joe Alwyn. “I think people are absolutely looking at Travis Kelce in a different light,” says Eunice Shin, a partner at brand consultancy Prophet. “His overall brand image has become a lot brighter just given the fact that you now have all of these Taylor Swift fans, millions who now know who he is, who may not have known him before.”
Kelce is hardly the first NFL star to turbocharge his fame with a celebrity partner. Future NFL Hall of Famer Tom Brady was married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen for 13 years, while Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson wed Grammy Award winner Ciara in 2016. From Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe to David and Victoria Beckham, the combined wattage of two stars from sports and entertainment has always been good for business.
Brands are willing to pay a premium to work with ambassadors who have a famous family member or significant other, explains Shin. “I think the power of the Kardashians is that it’s not just one, but it’s a family, and there’s multiple stories to be told around them and their brand relevance from that standpoint,” she says, adding that in the case of the world’s top athletes, “it makes these people a little bit more interesting and more relevant from beyond what they do on their court or their field or wherever they’re participating.”
The added exposure could also open new categories for Kelce according to Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management at George Washington University, who can imagine brands such as Apple Music, an existing NFL sponsor, or, say, 1-800 Flowers, taking a new look at the Chiefs star.
When you magnify the NFL star’s fame by Swift’s enormous (and enormously passionate) fan base—she has 273 million Instagram followers, as well as 94 million more on X—the possibilities for greater exposure are astronomical. Every aspect of her luxury suite romance with Kelce—from the unreleased New Era Chiefs windbreaker to the New Balance 550 sneakers she wore—has been under the pop culture microscope since Sunday.
It hits different pic.twitter.com/EWD5zUrWVY
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 25, 2023
Thompson adds that brands may fear they missed out on a golden opportunity with Kelce. One of his clients, for example, was negotiating with Team Kelce on a deal in the lead-up to last weekend. But after Sunday’s game, he says, the price doubled. The client ended up passing.
For now, Kelce’s existing sponsors “look like geniuses,” reaping the benefits of the added interest. Meanwhile, he had already signed with Creative Artists Agency for entertainment endeavors in May. A&A Management handles his marketing opportunities. And while the halo effect may wear off at some point, Thomson explains, there isn’t much risk to Kelce as an NFL player with Swift’s audience not being core football fans. There’s a balance, though. Kelce could take a reputational hit if he is perceived to be trading off Swift’s fame, and her fan base has a history of turning on her exes.
“The Swifties are serious about Taylor,” Delpy Neirotti says. “They’re very protective.” And, hey, if it doesn’t work out for these two kids who were both born in 1989, Swift will have a pretty soft landing. Forbes ranks her among the richest self-made women in America with a net worth of $780 million.