This year’s Super Bowl is expected to be one of the most watched games in NFL history, and that’s thanks in part to one superstar who won’t be on the field. Yes, we’re talking about Taylor Swift.
Swifties are expected to tune in Sunday to catch Taylor Swift at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. She will support her boyfriend, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, next flying back from her Eras Tour stop in Japan to be there.
Do fans really care if Swift attends? At least one in five Americans say they’re tuning in because they or someone in their family wants to catch them playing in a recent Seton Hall University survey. That’s 21% of Americans, a shocking statistic.
It cannot be denied. The Taylor Swift effect is real. But the NFL isn’t the only American sports league currently getting a massive boost from an international superstar.
In the same way that Swift has dominated the psyche of American sports fans since September, when she was first spotted inside the Kelce family suite at Arrowhead Stadium, Lionel Messi has taken the American sports world by storm since signing with MLS side Inter Miami in July. Messi will also be visible during the Super Bowl, doing his first appearance in a commercial during the big game.
Messi and Swift are brands that transcend markets. Wherever they go, profits follow.
The Eras Tour is expected to be one of the highest-grossing concerts in American history. Swift will earn up to $4.1 billion, Peter Cohan, an associate professor of management at Babson College, assessed in October. Its latest three-show run in Japan is expected to boost the Japanese economy by $228 million. says USA Today’s Bryan Westa reporter hired by the national media to exclusively cover Swift.
Viewership for all NFL games is up 7% this season, according to Nielsen numbers. This is on track with record viewing figures throughout the season. It also includes an 8.1% increase among 12- to 17-year-old girls — a sector that could very well have been pulled up the league by Swift’s influence. According to Apex Marketing, Swift has created $331.5 million in brand value for the Chiefs and the NFL.
Messi Mania has fueled a similar frenzy. Messi sold more jerseys within 24 hours of his signing than any other player who switched teams, including Tom Brady and Lebron James, the Associated Press reported. (Travis Kelce jersey sales sharp 400% the day Swift attended her first Chiefs game.)
After Messi’s MLS signing, tickets to every Inter Miami game, home or away, were sold out. Inter Miami said in November that they have already sold out season tickets for the new season, which starts this month and will be the first full season with Messi on their roster. It didn’t matter that the prices in some parts of their stadium doubled.
MLS viewership and attendance increases naturally followed. It’s worth adding that Apple mediated an unprecedented revenue-sharing deal with Messi, which will benefit from the growth of Apple’s MLS Season Pass subscriptions with Apple TV. Meanwhile, Inter Miami’s club valuation went from $600 million before Messi’s arrival to over $1 billion now.
The examples of Swift and Messi influencing businesses large and small are endless.
When Messi shared a photo of his favorite pizza on social media, the Miami store that made it soon had a line around the block. When Swift was spotted wearing a TNT (Taylor and Travis) bracelet while partying on the court after the AFC Championship game, the small jeweler who made it had a more than 2000% increase in sales.
However, the Messi and Swift effects, as they belong to MLS and NFL, are not the same.
“There is a big fundamental difference between the two,” said Daniel Ladik, lead methodologist for the aforementioned Seton Hall survey. Ladik is an associate professor and head of the marketing department at the university. He is also a football fan.
“MLS would be absolutely nothing in the global sports narrative without Messi,” said Ladik. “The NFL would still be colossal without Taylor Swift. She just found a way to get it into another device.”
Messi changed the trajectory of MLS last year, Ladik said. Referring to Apple’s 10-year, $2.5 billion deal with the league, he added, “It didn’t look like those subscription numbers were going that well. Then Messi joining (the league) and that incredible run they had in the Cup, that changed the whole narrative of soccer in the United States and beyond the United States. Everything about that conversation is about one of the most famous people in the world at the top of their game, who is actually on the field.”
Meanwhile, Swift is away from the field. Her only apparent connection to the NFL is her relationship with Kelce.
“To have an individual have that much influence in something that he doesn’t star in, perform in, or be directly involved in is unprecedented,” Ladik said. “I can’t think of another situation at any time, sports or non-sports, that has someone from the outside that has had such a dominant influence on everything.”
Swift’s impact on the NFL is unlikely to be long-lasting for the league, unless the NFL is strategic in its attempt to capture or sustain any new interest from young fans tuning in to Super Bowl Sunday.
“The onus is on the NFL to be the marketing machine that they have to find a way to support it,” Ladik said. “The onus is on the NFL to find a way to make this sustainable — not that they’ll be able to keep 100% of the profits, but one-third of the profits for both the younger demographic and the female demographic? This is a win.”
Ladik expects Messi’s effect in MLS WILL to be long-term, unlike the hype caused by many international stars before him. Before the “Messi effect”, there was the “Beckham experiment” (a nod to a book written by the late Grant Wahl). And before MLS, Americans had arguably the most iconic soccer player playing on American soil, me Brazil’s Pele at the New York Cosmos.
“There’s certainly no doubt that Beckham was a turning point in MLS history, but he didn’t hold back,” Ladik said. “I have a feeling they learned their lesson that time and the Messi effect this time will stand on its own.”
Could Swift be a turning point for the NFL? That, it seems, will depend on the league.
(Photo: Lionel Hahn/Getty Images, Jun Sato/WireImage; Design: Eammon Dalton)