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Call it ‘Swiftonomics’: How Taylor Swift brought a gold rush to Kansas City

Three women in foreground are wearing cold weather clothes and cheering from inside football stadium club seating. The woman on far left (Taylor Swift) is waring a knitted white and red stocking cap.
Michael Dwyer
Associated Press
Chris Harrington, owner of Westside Storey, says sales doubled after Swift was seen wearing a sweatshirt from the store. The hand-crocheted hat they included in the order, pictured, was made by the store's social media manager Kathryn Cacho. Since the game, those hats have sold out.

The Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City estimates that Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour this summer had an economic impact of $200 million. Then Swift kept coming back to the city because of her relationship with Travis Kelce. Local business owners and even the city’s tourism board say they're reaping the benefits.

2023 was a big year for Kansas City. The Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl in February. Taylor Swift’s two-night Eras Tour performance in July included an additional song in her set and a new music video debut to accompany her release of "Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)."

The city went all out for her stop, creating a lineup of Swift-themed events.

But perhaps the most unexpected high for the city was when Swift showed up at a Chiefs game in September, making her relationship with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce public.

Swelce — or Traylor, or Tayvis — brought renewed worldwide attention to Kansas City. Mayor Quinton Lucas says Swift’s given Kansas City a big reputation — one that doesn’t have anything to do with the Wizard of Oz. With this relationship, he says Kansas City is in its superstar era.

“I happened to be in Paris this year for the Rugby World Cup. There was a woman from the Foreign Service in New Zealand who said, ‘Oh my gosh, you're from Kansas City,’” Lucas said. “She's like ‘Taylor Swift, right? And she's dating some not-very-famous footballer.’ Like, actually, he's kind of a big deal for us.”

VisitKC says the city made about $48 million from Swift's Eras Tour this summer, while the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City estimates her Kansas City shows had a $200 million impact on the U.S. economy.

Then, after her relationship with Kelce went public, StubHub reported that ticket sales for all Chiefs home games tripled for the rest of the season. Derek Byrne, a spokesperson for VisitKC, says it’s opened a lot of doors for the city to promote itself.

“Even if Taylor Swift’s name isn’t in some of the work we’re doing, it is still giving people a reason to think of us a little more seriously,” Byrne said.

According to an analysis by Google Trends, searches asking, “Where is Kansas City?” more than doubled in the U.S. over the past three months and search interest in local restaurants skyrockets each time the couple visits one. Even searches for flights based on the pair’s travel patterns out of Kansas City, are rising.

Fans in a football stadium mostly wear red and white winter clothing. One person is holding poster with images of Taylor Swift. The sign reads: "Go Chiefs, but really, where's Taylor?"
Reed Hoffmann
Associated Press
A Kansas City Chiefs fans holds up a sign about Taylor Swift during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023 in Kansas City, Mo.

“I feel like it's so much more in the zeitgeist,” Sarah Armstrong, a trends expert with Google, said. “Whenever Taylor Swift visits Kansas City, we see a huge spike in searches for ‘Is Taylor Swift in Kansas City?’”

Armstrong says searches for Kansas City were at their highest after the Chiefs' Super Bowl wins, but the Swift-Kelce relationship is a close second.

It’s too early to tell if the relationship will have a major impact on travel and economic activity in the city, but Kansas City business owners say the newfound attention has been a boon for them.

Chris Harrington, the owner of Westside Storey, suspected that he sold some vintage Chiefs gear to Swift herself. After she wore a vintage sweatshirt from the store to one of her latest Chiefs excursions, a video of them packing the order, including a shirt that said “Who’s Travis Kelce anyway? Ew” got nationwide attention, and business soared.

It soared again at another Chiefs game when Swift was seen wearing a hand-crocheted hat from Kathryn Cacho, Westside Storey’s social media manager who also runs Kut the Knit, a vintage knitwear business.

“It will be part of our legacy in some sense, as weird as that sounds that one person just buys a sweatshirt and that's like a moment,” Harrington said. “But for us, being a small shop in Kansas City, that is our moment.”

Harrington said on a typical day about 10 people will be browsing their website. After their viral Swift moment, the store had about 500 people buying merchandise. Swift’s attention has doubled the sales from their previous biggest day, the Super Bowl. And those crocheted hats are currently sold out.

At Made in KC, a collective of Kansas City vendors, co-owner Keith Bradley has noticed a lot more Swift and Kelce-related foot traffic.

“It's definitely something that I think the city is really proud of,” Bradley said. “Whether you're a diehard fan or just getting to know Taylor Swift or have never heard of her, you can't escape her celebrity.”

Bradley says the relationship has inspired the vendors at his stores to create Swift and Kelce-centric merchandise — like a pair of earrings with both of their faces or a sweatshirt in Chiefs colors that says “I’m just here for Taylor.”

There’s no telling whether the Taylor Swift magic will continue to rub off on Kansas City, but it’s a relationship residents and businesses here eagerly support.

Lucas said the relationship is also changing how the city promotes itself to tourists: What else can people do and see here while hoping to catch a glimpse of Swift at a football game?

“It's making it a lot easier for me to sell Kansas City,” he said.

Corrected: December 28, 2023 at 9:18 AM CST
Correction: VisitKC says the city made about $48 million from Taylor Swift's concerts. The Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City estimates the shows had a $200 million impact.
When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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