· 6 min read
She loves the players, and he loves the game. Translation: 12-time Grammy Award–winner Taylor Swift is dating two-time Super Bowl champ Travis Kelce.
If we’ve learned anything from the athlete-celebrity couples who have come before them (think David and Victoria Beckham or Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union), it’s that when two well-liked celebrities with fans across demographics tie their reputations together, brands often come running to bask alongside their individual—or dual—star power.
In the case of Swift and Kelce, the opportunities seem to be coming, well, swiftly, especially following Swift’s attendance at a Kansas City Chiefs game this weekend appeared to confirm their tie-up. As of early Tuesday afternoon, the NFL Players Association had already received pitches from two of its partners to create new Kelce merch from the weekend’s excitement, Gina Scott, the association’s VP of partner services, told Marketing Brew. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles—who have both Kelce’s brother Jason Kelce and running back D’Andre Swift on the team’s roster—are also jumping in on a surging interest in the names on jerseys.
“You have the ability to capitalize upon this popularity, and that’s a huge value to partners,” Scott said.
But with Swift’s international reach and a high-stakes social media landscape, marketers 🎶 need to calm down 🎶 —or at least check their playbooks before hopping too fast on the Traylor bandwagon.
Eagles t-shirt Chiefs jersey hanging from the door
Before the rumor mill about a possible relationship with Swift began to churn, Kelce had a big reputation of his own. Already known as one of the best tight ends in the NFL, his dating show Catching Kelce, which aired in 2016, contributed to more mainstream name recognition. The athlete is currently No. 6 on the NFLPA’s Influencer Hot List and No. 15 on Kantar’s Sports Monitor Athlete Reputation Tracker.
After the public sightings over the weekend, though, Kelce’s star has risen even higher. His jersey shot to the No. 5 top-selling jersey in the NFL this week, Scott said, and Kelce merchandise saw a 400% increase in sales. Beyond that, he gained tens of thousands of followers overnight—although his follower count still doesn’t hold a candle to Swift’s—and it’s worth noting that he’s also “taking a bit of a risk with his public perception or image” in the event that there ends up being bad blood between the two, said Kantar EVP Ryan McConnell.
But if brands come a-knocking, Kelce may not take every deal that comes his way. He currently has deals with 25 brands including Bud Light, Pepsi, and Nike, according to SponsorUnited. It may be even harder for brands to connect with Swift: the musician has done relatively few endorsement deals recently, like those Capital One ads during her Eras era.
While Kelce is “more sponsorable now” than he was before his relationship with Swift took center stage, according to Morning Consult Brand Analyst Ellyn Briggs, the singer-songwriter’s fanbase is hard to compete with. A majority of US adults identify as Swifties, including a fairly even split between men and women, per Morning Consult.
“She’s already at the peak of her powers, and she will probably lose more reputationally than she might gain financially by pursuing more brand deals, given the highly engaged nature of her fanbase,” Sam Yardley, EVP of sports marketing agency Two Circles, said. “I don’t think it’s in her interest to cash in directly with brands now.”
We can’t make any promises
For marketers who aren’t lucky enough to get the official Swift-Kelce stamps of approval, there are still ways for them to capitalize on the buzz. Endorsing the Chiefs or other players on the team is one more realistic avenue, Yardley said. Even without official licensing rights, some clothing companies, like the apparel brand Charlie Hustle, are already spinning out new products that reference the Chiefs and Swift, and sports merchandise company BreakingT is selling a shirt that reads “karma is my tight end.”
There are other ways for brands to get in on the excitement. Kelce wore pants and a jacket from fashion label KidSuper while leaving the game hand-in-hand with Swift, and the brand moved quickly to feature the fit on its site, push out a press release, and even change the name of the jacket and pants to include “1989.” In these instances, speed is key, given that there’s a chance “the rumor mill dies down in a week,” Scott said.
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And for brands that can’t turn around merch with a day’s notice—or whose bread and butter isn’t merch—there’s always social media. Arby’s, for instance, engaged without mentioning Swift or Kelce by name, instead referencing a viral post of Swift eating chicken and “seemingly ranch” at the game.
Heinz used the same viral condiment post as inspiration behind its limited-edition “ketchup and seemingly ranch” sauce—a repackaged version of its long-standing “kranch” sauce—which was promoted on its Instagram account. Companies that have the ability to be nimble and move quickly are best positioned to take advantage of viral moments like this, Briggs said.
“Brands are usually a few steps behind the trend curve because they have to get creative approvals, they have to go through all these hoops,” she said. But “they can just throw up a picture of Taylor Swift in the booth and tie it to their brand with a tweet with little approval process.”
Nothing lasts forever
Social posts are low risk because there’s little to no cost associated with them and spending too much money on any one product or campaign tied to a celebrity couple can sometimes backfire. Take crypto exchange FTX, which ran an ad featuring Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen right around the time news broke that they would be getting divorced. When it rains, it pours…not a month after the couple called it quits, FTX collapsed.
“I think it’d be very dangerous to put money into a campaign with both of them,” SponsorUnited CEO Bob Lynch said.
Briggs advised brands to allocate any investments tied to Swift and Kelce based on how long they think news of their relationship might spur sales or engagements. It’s a hard calculation, but she noted that even if excitement around the pair doesn’t stay at the level it was when Swift attended Sunday’s game, there will likely still be fans looking for ways to engage even after the hype dies down.