In Our Football Era: How Taylor Swift changed my father-daughter NFL experience

“Dad, I want a Kelce jersey for Christmas.” 

My 10-year-old daughter Bella made this declaration on Nov. 12, 2023. Green Bay and Pittsburgh were set to kick off in less than an hour. We were headed to my son Grant’s football banquet. The natural paternal instinct — the one that is constantly in a hurry — kicked in. 

“Just go put on your Packers sweatshirt, please.” 

This was my initial dismissal of the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce phenomenon that spawned countless conspiracy theories leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl 58 matchup between the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had to answer a question about whether Swift was the plot twist in the 2023-24 NFL season.

“I don’t think I’m that good a scripter, or anybody on our staff,” Goodell said Monday at his pre-Super Bowl news conference. “Listen, there’s no way I could have scripted that one.” 

The Swift phenomenon wasn’t good for the NFL. It was great.

MORE TAYLOR SWIFT: Travis Kelce dating timeline | Will she go to Super Bowl 58?

I was skeptical, especially after the “Sunday Night Football” matchup against the New York Jets in Week 4. That’s the game that had over-the-top pandering to draw the Swifties in. I thought this was a fad, much like these customizable Stanley water bottles that are back in style for some reason unknown to me. How many water bottles do you need? 

To understand that, you have to witness the power of the Swifties firsthand. I have been to most of the top-shelf college and NFL stadiums. I watched all those contrived Facebook reels of group reactions from bars from that time your team did something right in that game. None of it matches the up-close decibel level of a pack of fourth-grade Swifties screaming the chorus to “Love Story” at the Daddy-Daughter Dance. It’s not really close, honestly. 

That power worked for the NFL, and it worked for our family. Bella watched football before this season — a prerequisite where football dominates the social calendar in the fall. My wife Kimberly is a die-hard Cowboys fan. My son Grant plays junior high football and would ask what the Packers’ score was during timeouts when his coaches weren’t looking. He gets that honest.

Bella fit in by being a Dolphins fan, and it was genuine. How many fourth-graders can pronounce Tua Tagovailoa without missing a beat? 

But Bella watches football now, and the Chiefs are the reason why. Sure, she wants to catch a glimpse of Swift in the suite, but she started asking more questions about the play on the field with each passing week. 

MORE: How much money has Taylor Swift generated for the NFL?

Taylor Swift bracelets

(SN / Bill Bender)

“Why doesn’t Mahomes throw to Kelce every play?”

Everybody asked that question at some point during the playoffs. 

“Why did he throw his helmet on the sideline?”

Kimberly asked a similar question when I punted a laundry basket during the Packers-Cowboys game a few years ago. 

Bella is no longer doing this as a family obligation. She’s rooting for the Chiefs and learning more about football. What father wouldn’t be a fan of that? When the Packers played the Chiefs in Week 13, Bella had another question: 

“The Chiefs are going to win, right?”

“Why can’t you be a Cowboys fan like your mother?”

I’ve always shied away from the “Girl Dad” label because we have two kids. We don’t put one ahead of the other when giving them opportunities. I prefer “Sports Dad.”

MORE: Travis Kelce’s favorite part of Taylor Swift’s new album tracklist

When Bella isn’t at dance class, she’s playing volleyball, basketball, softball, and lacrosse. Grant plays football, basketball, and lacrosse. Kimberly and I are de facto Uber drivers splitting the difference between the two each night — like just about every other parent in a sports-first town like Pickerington, Ohio. 

The rides are more important than the games. Taylor Swift is Bella’s hype music, and I know more lyrics than I let on. Bella wants to mix in football talk now (at least on occasion) and I’ll take that conversation. I am never going to win Led Zeppelin vs. Swift anyway. 

There is no question the NFL won here. A total of 19 regular-season games this season had a Nielsen rating of 12.0 or higher, according to Sports Media Watch. A league-high eight of those games involved the Chiefs. The Cowboys were next with seven, followed by the Eagles with five.

A total of eight games had a Nielsen rating of 13 or higher, and the Chiefs had half of those games. Perhaps the NFL’s biggest mistake was putting the AFC wild-card matchup between Kansas City and Miami on Peacock. It drew a 9.2, but the AFC championship matchup with Baltimore drew a 25.5 rating.

Super Bowl 58 easily could be the most-watched matchup of all-time with the Swift factor mixed in. 

NFL playoff TV ratings

GAME TEAMS RATING VIEWERS
CHAMP KC-BAL 25.5 55.47
CHAMP DET-SF 25.1 56.32
DIV KC-BUF 24.2 50.39
WC GB-DAL 19.1 40.16
DIV TB-DET 18.6 37.18
DIV GB-SF 17.8 37.54
DIV HOU-BAL 16.2 32.4
WC PIT-BUF 15.7 31.05
WC LAR-DET 15.6 32.19
WC PHI-TB 15.1 29.18
WC CLE-HOU 12.8 26.1
WC MIA-KC 9.2 22.86

Source: Sports Media Watch

According to IDX.com, the NFL saw its highest regular-season female viewership since 2000. That included a 53-percent increase with teenage girls. There isn’t a measurement for my daughter’s age range, but I would have to assume it’s a similar spike.  

It’s not just my daughter. It’s the girls on her basketball team. They went to the “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” movie and spent undisclosed amounts of money on souvenir popcorn buckets and drink cups. It’s my mom, who will undoubtedly bet on Kansas City in the Super Bowl this year after losing last season. It’s my sisters. It’s my aunts. 

Almost all of them are rooting for the Chiefs now. There are more Kelce jerseys, “In My Football Era” sweatshirts and red-and-gold bracelets at the bus stop, too. The NFL is riding that momentum toward a worldwide tour of its own. The Eagles will play in Brazil in Week 1 next season. 

MORE: Has Taylor Swift ever performed at the Super Bowl?

They’ll take the Kelce-Swift storyline right into Super Bowl Sunday, too. Will Swift make it to the game from her concert in Tokyo? Will Kelce propose if the Chiefs win? What does “The Tortured Poets Department” mean

I’m the one asking these questions now. Goodell, meanwhile, is sticking to the same old answers. 

“I think the idea that this was a script, that this was pre-planned, that’s nonsense,” Goodell said. “It’s frankly not even worth talking about. We see two people together having fun together. That’s wonderful. I wish them well. They’re both wonderful people.”

Is he talking to Bella and me? He might as well be. There was no Kelce jersey under the tree for Christmas. Bella, who now proudly roots for the Dolphins and the Chiefs, had to settle for one of those Stanley water bottles instead. Maybe — maybe — if the Chiefs win Super Bowl 58, we’ll get a Kelce jersey in this house, and she can wear that to the Taylor Swift concert at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in November.

The best part? 

She knows the Colts play there, too. 

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