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A New Audience Doesn’t Mean a New Story

Among the 70,808 people in the rowdy crowd of Buffalo Bills fans at the 2024 AFC East Championship Game was third-grader Ella Piazza. Like most eight-year-old girls, Ella had never attended an NFL game. And despite the thermometer at Highmark Stadium reading like 6 degrees, she wasn’t even there primarily to watch the game. 

 Ella came with one mission in mind: to catch a glimpse of her idol, Taylor Swift. Swift was paying attention to the action on the field—her boyfriend Travis Kelce plays tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills’ opponent that day. Like other Swifties and football fans (or any consumer of mass media), Ella has watched the burgeoning love story between the pop megastar and her NFL beau throughout the 2023 season.

Thanks to sheer determination, a little luck, and a seven-time Pro Bowler, Ella’s dream came true. At halftime, she hiked her way to the top of the bleachers under the suite where Swift was watching the game. When Jason Kelce (Travis’ brother) saw Ella and her homemade sign that read “Buffalo Bills + Taylor Swift Best First Game Ever!!,” he jumped out of the suite, picked up Ella, and brought her to see Swift. 

Swift waved back and smiled at Ella, who later described the moment to the TODAY show as “like, amazing.” Ella’s mother, a long-time Bills fan, added that Ella is not “totally aware yet” of what happened, but worked hard on her sign and even told her friends at school that she planned on meeting Swift at the game. 

Ella is not alone in her newfound interest in the NFL. Swift’s own fandom and relationship with Kelce has tapped into a new audience for the NFL: Swifties. These predominantly young women and girls are entirely new to the sport.  

On October 1—the second game Swift attended—NBC reported a viewership of 27 million people, making it the most-watched Sunday TV show since the previous Super Bowl. Notably, viewership spiked 53 percent among teen girls, 34 percent for female viewers above 35, and 24 percent for female viewers aged 18 to 24, compared to the season-to-date average of the first three weeks of NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

Every brand seeks to grow their audience. For these expansions to be successful, they must be rooted in the brand’s strategic narrative. Aligning with the existing story ensures loyal customers don’t abandon the brand—an effective story has room for multiple personas and ways to tell the story that allow the growth every brand wants.

However, this new audience has not been welcomed with open arms by every NFL fan. 

The camera pans to Swift celebrating Kelce after a big play (or dancing along to the Chiefs’ anthem of the season “Swag Surfin”) have angered many in the NFL’s existing fan base. Some have taken to X, formerly known as Twitter, throughout the season to slam the league, with some alleging that the constant cutaways to the singer during game coverage are “destroying football.”

That’s certainly a valid opinion. But is Swift really ruining the sanctity of America’s Game?

A brand’s strategic story lays out why it exists, the problem it solves for customers, and the movement it aims to build with them around that purpose. It’s an effective framework for building great sales pitches or marketing materials, but since it also contains the promises made to each customer, it’s a way to validate strategy. A good market expansion draws new buyers into the existing movement.

The NFL articulates its purpose as: “We unite people and inspire communities in the joy of the game by delivering the world’s most exciting sports and entertainment experience.” 

In this regard the NFL’s brand story is quite good: it keeps the focus on its purpose and views the primary product—four quarters of on-field action—as a tool to achieve that, not the purpose in and of itself. The league has embraced the changing media landscape, understanding that audiences crave more entertainment than football alone.

For example, the NFL’s recent partnership with Nickelodeon televises certain games for a youth-specific audience, complete with slime cannons soaking the players in the endzone, Spongebob Squarepants taunting the kicker, and Dora the Explorer explaining holding penalties rules. 

Other aspects of the NFL fan experience fit this bill, as well—halftime shows, cheerleaders, jet flyovers, and more. Fans haven’t rejected them because they’re consistent with the NFL’s story: it’s entertainment, not just the product on the field. In this way, Swift’s brand is not unlike the NFL— in her nearly twenty years in the spotlight, Swift’s willingness to disclose her fears, failures, crushes, and conflicts has defined a relationship with fans that has surpassed music alone. 

And, if she is evaluated by the NFL’s own mission, Taylor Swift has been a great partner. She has inspired a new community, and the numbers validate there’s excitement and entertainment. 

Throughout her twelve appearances at a Chiefs game between September 24 and January 22, Swift has generated an estimated brand value of $331.5 million for the Chiefs, thanks to the marketing reach and impact of a combination of print, digital, radio, TV, highlights, and social media. This year’s Super Bowl also drew 123.4 million viewers across CBS and Paramount+, making it the most-watched telecast since the 1969 Moon landing and the most-watched non-news telecast of all time.

During the Super Bowl week press conference on February 5, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the naysayers, maintaining that “it’s great” that Taylor Swift has joined his football league’s fandom. “She knows great entertainment, and I think that’s why she loves NFL football.” 

Goodell went on to say, “The Taylor Swift effect is also a positive…it’s great to have her a part of it. Obviously it creates a buzz, it creates another group of young fans, particularly young women that are interested in seeing, ‘Why is she going to this game?’ ‘Why is she interested in this game besides Travis?’ She’s a football fan. And I think that’s great for us.”

These remarks from Goodell directly address why the NFL is happy to show Swift on screen for an average of 25 seconds in each game she attends—this new audience of fans is still centered around one thing: football.

In order to witness Swift react to Kelce taking a tough hit or scoring a game-winning touchdown, Swifties must tune in for the entire game, just the same as the league’s existing fans. In this sense, Swifities have only been additive to the NFL. Even though their motivations for tuning in may be slightly different than the league’s existing fan base, Swifties are simply expanding the NFL’s definition of what (and how) the league can entertain, without taking away from why the existing fan base is watching.

The NFL itself has historically been unsuccessful in their attempt to expand their audience to the female fan base, implementing strategies like taking a standard-issued jersey, shrinking it, dying it pink, and bedazzling it. In another campaign, the league tried to woo women with their blog full of tips and recipes for “homegating.”​ However, the new audience must align with the brand’s strategic narrative in order for an expansion to be successful. 

By rooting their purpose in entertainment, the NFL successfully welcomed new members to their fan base, all while the new and existing members remain entertained by the game. 

Swift herself referenced her newfound source of enjoyment during her TIME Person of the Year interview, saying, “Football is awesome, it turns out. I’ve been missing out my whole life.” Swift has been the ideal partner to help a community of fans see what they’ve been missing, too. She’s helping the NFL offer a slightly different product than what it historically put on the field, but one that’s consistent with its core narrative—and primed to keep growing.

Anya Reiser is an Engagement Team Lead at Woden. Read our extensive guide on how to craft your organization’s narrative, or send us an email at to uncover what makes you essential.