NFL seizing on Taylor Swift is shallow and unsurprising considering its history of courting female fans

The NFL has been touting for years that more women have been watching the sport, with the share of female football fans now near 50 percent.

That seems to have happened despite the league’s efforts at courting women. From the ill-advised Pepto-pink jerseys that once permeated the NFL’s online shop (seriously, why did it take so long to offer team-colored jerseys in a more flattering cut?), to a special page for women on the league website a little over a decade ago that promoted “homegating” with recipes, to the reported laughably small amount of money it actually donated to breast cancer-related charities during its once-vaunted and now-abandoned Pink October efforts, the NFL’s attempts have been shallow at best, focused on stereotypes about women.

Given what we’ve seen in recent weeks, it feels like little has changed in the NFL’s approach, except the methods of pandering. Now the league can use social media channels like TikTok and Instagram, which have high percentages of younger female users.

And use them it will.

Now that Taylor Swift, one of the most recognizable women in the country, is involved with one of the league’s biggest stars in Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, the NFL and its broadcast partners are going overboard in trying to court Swifties, the singer’s rabid fan base.

Taylor Swift is now the apple of the NFL's eye. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Taylor Swift is now the apple of the NFL’s eye. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports) (USA Today Sports / reuters)

In a lot of ways, it is thirsty and, well, shallow, though unsurprising. This is, after all, a sports organization that would put the opening of an empty paper bag in prime time on its in-house network if it could sell the ad time.

Don’t take just my word for it either. Kelce and his big brother Jason also said the NFL is doing too much, saying so on the latest episode of their weekly podcast “The Heights.”

On Sunday night, with Swift in attendance for her second straight Chiefs game, this the team’s prime time matchup against the New York Jets, NBC showed Swift 17 times during the broadcast of the game, the Los Angeles Times reported. Seventeen times!

On Monday, the league’s official feed on X, formerly known as Twitter, changed its header to three photos of Swift reacting to moments from Chiefs-Jets and switched its bio to a lyric from Swift’s “The Best Day.”

There are seven clips on the league TikTok feed that feature Swift, including a pinned one of she and Kelce holding hands after Kansas City’s home win over the Chicago Bears in Week 3, the first game the Grammy winner attended. There are at least five photos or videos of Swift on the NFL’s Instagram page.

By Wednesday, with the fatigue mounting and criticism coming from the Kelce brothers, the NFL defended its over-the-top Tay-tention in a statement to People magazine.

“We frequently change our bios and profile imagery based on what’s happening in and around our games, as well as culturally,” the statement said. “The Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce news has been a pop cultural moment we’ve leaned into in real time, as it’s an intersection of sport and entertainment, and we’ve seen an incredible amount of positivity around the sport.”

Except this isn’t really a “pop cultural moment” the NFL should be exploiting for its own gain. A pregnant Rihanna floating over the field at State Farm Stadium during the Super Bowl LVII halftime show earlier this year is a cultural moment. Beyoncé reuniting Destiny’s Child for her Super Bowl XLII halftime show was a cultural moment. This is two people who might be just beginning a relationship. Yes, she’s famous and increasingly he is too, joking with his brother on “The Heights” about the number of commercials he shot during the offseason that are now debuting during NFL games.

The NFL, however, seems committed to squeezing everything it can out of this, capitalizing off of Swift’s presence as she shows support for Kelce, seeing nothing but an opportunity to seize for its own gain and potentially grow its audience among younger women. The result of this force-feeding was 27 million in viewership, according to NBC, the most for a Sunday night game since the last Super Bowl. Much of that spike was a result of increased viewership from young women.

But if this Swift-Kelce spectacle hadn’t occurred, what would the league be doing to court younger women?

One of these days the NFL might figure out how to get and keep women’s attention without advice on how to throw the best “homegating” party or using a woman’s budding relationship for social media fodder. That day isn’t here yet.

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