What happens when you unite the biggest pop star in the world and a two-time Super Bowl champion? A whole lot of excitement, as the romance of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce has shown.
But amid all the cheering, canoodling and Instagram flirting, the situation lends some useful insights into marketing — and as an expert in sports marketing, I know that this is a topic worth focusing on.
Here are five lessons experiential marketers can consider to enhance their brands and reputation.
1) BLANK SPACE: EMBRACE AUDIENCE EXPANSION
“Cause you know I love the players … And you love the game!” – Blank Space (2014)
Great entertainment marketers know how to fill a blank space. And Swift has given the United States’ National Football League (NFL) a unique opportunity to expand its appeal to a demographic — young women — that may not have been interested in football before. Swifties, as Swift’s fans are known, are eager to see the pop icon embrace being in love.
So whenever she visits a stadium to cheer on her new lover, Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Kelce — which she has done four times in the past two months and may well do again soon — a media frenzy follows.
While serious football fans want the focus to stay on football, the NFL is smart to capitalise on this opportunity. After all, Swift is a mega-popular star: She has more charted songs (212), top-10 hits (42) and No 1 song debuts (five) on the Billboard Top 100 than any other female musician in history.
The Chiefs remain known for their winning ways and star power, and they’re still drawing — and satisfying — their traditional fans. Yet Swift’s presence has brought a more playful tone to the games. The ordinarily serious Chiefs coach Andy Reid has taken to 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.
What makes these particular human brands so compelling?
Many Swifties are invested in Taylor’s romantic life and are cheering for her to find love and one day pick out a white dress. This interest and fantasy takes the form of a parasocial — or one-sided — relationship, where one party invests emotional energy and time, while the other person is unaware of the first person’s existence.
While these can potentially become harmful, in most cases parasocial interactions are a source of escape, fun and fantasy.
In an era of negative news and doomscrolling, a story that’s fun and entertaining can be powerful. And research in our advertising and branding book shows that sport marketers are eager to capitalise on positive appeals.
5) EXILE: DON’T JUST THINK LOCALLY
“You’re not my homeland anymore/So what am I defending now?” – Exile (2020)
A final insight for brands and marketers is to not be constrained by geography. With digital commerce and social media, researchers have become increasingly interested in “faraway fans” who travel long distances to events.
In a recent study about professional cycling fanship in sporting-event sponsorship, my colleagues and I found that sport event attendees that traveled from farther away were more invested in the event and more willing to buy merchandise. This has big implications for new fans who may travel to Kansas City to catch a glimpse of Taylor Swift.
The Swift/Kelce relationship and the NFL’s highlighting of it is one example of why it is important not to be hemmed in by geography. As one cardboard sign at a recent Chiefs game in Kansas City proclaimed: “I traveled here to see Taylor Swift!” THE CONVERSATION
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Angeline Close Scheinbaum is a Dan Duncan Endowed Professor of Sports Marketing and an Associate Professor of Marketing, Clemson University.