If I had a pound for every man that asked me “But do you know the offside rule though?” I'd have enough money to get on the London property ladder. Despite being an Arsenal fan my whole life - like, dedicated, goes-to-regular-fixtures fan - it can be intimidating to watch games in the pub, constantly batting off requests to move when I’ve booked a seat specifically in front of the TV screen. I’ve been quizzed by complete strangers about team statistics and asked vintage Gunner trivia just because I’m wearing a red and white scarf. Is this a test that only female fans have to take? Because I’ve missed that memo.
Having grown up without other women to watch football with (I didn’t meet a fellow female fan until my early twenties), I often felt isolated by my love of the game. And that isolation quickly turned into objectification in more recent years, with strangers assuming my desperation for a post-match analysis (‘Hello? Did you see that foul?’) is actually flirting. Really I just want to vent to someone about a substitute choice, or a referee's bad call.
But when Taylor Swift started dating Travis Kelce, the tide started to change. The American dream had happened: a pop superstar was dating an elite football player. It sounded made up. And, as Taylor appeared at more games, the audience changed, too. NBC reported their viewership had increased by more than two million women for some games since the start of the season, while social media was suddenly awash with sports chat.
The Taylor Swift Bowl delivers 🏈
Data from Roku TVs shows Chiefs-Bears saw a 63% increase in female viewers age 18-49 over Chiefs-Jags last week 📈
📺 10.2M adults reached was 61% increase
🏡 Household reach grew from 2.8M to 4.4M pic.twitter.com/1c6TDe1Gf7
— David Rumsey (@_DavidRumsey) September 25, 2023
Teams need fans, that much is clear. FOX has proven this; week three of the NFL season – when the Chiefs vs Bears game was on – saw an 8.1% uptake of female viewers aged 12-17 years of age, while the majority of other demographics saw a drop in viewers. And it’s not just more people tuning in, either. Teams make a significant amount of income through merchandise sales, and Travis Kelce’s jersey sales have spiked 400% since Taylor started donning her man’s number – meaning the Chiefs are pocketing a lot of profit from the “Swiftie effect”.
It’s been heartwarming to see messages of praise on social media from dads and boyfriends, thanking Taylor and Travis for giving them more common ground to bond with the women in their lives over. “We watch football every weekend together now [and] it’s amazing,” one father said of his daughter on X (formerly known as Twitter), while another confirmed, “Taylor Swift is good for football and hasn’t ruined a single thing about the NFL.”
Others agreed, with Travis’s brother Jason even stepping in to confirm, “The NFL would be foolish not to show [Taylor Swift]. [She is] an unbelievable role model for young women across the globe."
Pair that newfound common ground with the way that Travis and Jason Kelce have taken the time on their New Heights podcast to answer basic football questions, with no judgment or superiority, and things are starting to look a little more inclusive. Not everyone has a man to open the door to male sport for them, so allowing access for a growing fanbase is so important. Everyone benefits from this shared interest, so why isolate people to simply feel superior?
It shouldn’t have to take a pop star to make a sport accessible – it should be for all – but the fact that Taylor has created an entry point to engage with a game is valid, whether you’re into her music or not. The term “football fan” shouldn’t have a gender, we’re all there for the same reason: to support a team. After all, sports should be fun and not a tool for division and exclusion.
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