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Kansas City Chiefs dreamed of building an international fanbase. Then Taylor Swift came along

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, center left, and singer Taylor Swift leave Arrowhead stadium after an NFL football game between the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Charlie Riedel
Associated Press
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, center left, and singer Taylor Swift leave Arrowhead stadium after an NFL football game between the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Kansas City, Missouri.

When the pop star wove the team’s name into a song in Argentina on Saturday, millions of people around the world stopped what they were doing and took to Google.

On Saturday night, Google searches for the word “Chiefs” (who weren’t playing that weekend) were just about non-existent until — at about 2 a.m. local time — they saw a 150% spike.

That was the moment when Taylor Swift wove the phrase “the Chiefs” into her song “Karma” during a concert in Buenos Aires, where it was about 11 p.m.

“Karma is the guy on the Chiefs, coming straight home to me,” Swift sang that night, in place of the usual “Karma is the guy on the screen, coming straight home to me.” The presumed “guy,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, was in attendance and watching the moment unfold.

It may come as a surprise to Kansas City that the rest of the world does not normally hang on every move the NFL team makes — and most people weren’t even aware of the team. At least until Kelce and Swift’s romance began making headlines.

Reeves Wiedeman, a Kansas City native who writes about Taylor Swift for New York Magazine, said the new interest has been a boon for the Chiefs domestically.

For the NFL, as it aims to win fans overseas — including Latin America — Swift’s Argentina shout-out must be extremely welcome.

“Suddenly, you know they are probably approaching the same kind of name recognition that some of the huge, you know European soccer teams have around the world,” Wiedeman said.

The NFL has been working to expand its overseas fan base since 2007, through its Global Markets Program. According to the league, the program provides access to international markets for marketing and fan engagement as part of a “long-term strategic effort to enable clubs to build their brands globally while driving NFL fan growth beyond the US.”

Mexico, Brazil and Spain are all rumored to be talking to the NFL about hosting games.

But does greater name recognition overseas lead to greater demand for Chiefs tickets from Swifties in other countries? Brian Donovan, a KU professor who teaches a class about Taylor Swift, said it’s not likely.

“I don't think there are Swifties out there that would be willing to spend hundreds of dollars just just for the off chance that they might see their favorite star,” Donovan said. “But I do think that if you're on the fence about it, the idea that she is in the stadium might tip the scales one way or the other.”

KCUR checked with StubHub and Overland Park’s Tickets For Less to ask whether the Chiefs shoutout in Argentina spurred a spike in ticket sales for the next game.

“We did see a spike in page views on our Chiefs event page over the weekend, with the Chiefs-Bengals and Chiefs-Eagles games having the highest sales,” said Angela Presnell, Tickets For Less senior vice president of marketing and retail. “But it's hard to tell if this is solely because of the Swift Effect. The game against the Eagles is one of the most-anticipated games of the year as both teams — which each have a Kelce brother — faced off in the Super Bowl earlier this year.”

Presnell said the Tickets for Less website site did see an increase in traffic from women, which “could be an indicator of a new fan base.” StubHub did not respond.

While international fans may not be driving ticket prices up yet, Swifties in the states might be. Ticket prices spiked after her first appearance at a Chiefs game in September.

Wiedeman speculated that fans overseas who are planning to come to the U.S. for the World Cup in 2025, are now more aware of Kansas City as a venue.

“Whether Taylor and Travis are still together in three years, this brings greater brand recognition to the city. And that’s a good thing,” he said.

Another good thing, according to Donovan, is the impact on society that the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce relationship has had in general.

“Forty years ago the season or series finale of 'M*A*S*H.' aired and 60% of Americans who own television sets watched that episode,” Donovan said. “And we haven't had anything similar to that. There's something about the NFL in combination with the biggest fandom in the world providing a kind of monoculture for people to cling to.”

Contact: hollyedgell@kcur.org
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