A senior marketing executive at the NFL maintained that the league had nothing to do with helping to engineer Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s ultra-viral courtship of pop superstar Taylor Swift.
Marissa Solis, SVP of global brand and consumer marketing for the NFL, addressed the phenomenon during a panel at Advertising Week on the topic of how sports leagues are trying to reach elusive Gen Z audiences. Once the romance became public in September, she said, the league could only do its best to react and make the most of it.
The league “learned from the best, Ms. Taylor Swift,” she said with a smile, leaning into the off-field development, which also boosted TV ratings at a time when Swift was also getting set for the wide release of her Eras Tour concert film.
“This thing happened like this,” Solis marveled, snapping her fingers. “People think that we may have had something to do with it. Absolutely not. We knew nothing. We knew what you guys knew and followed on social media. Travis went to her concert, asked her to maybe come to a game. We had no idea that she was going to show up. And once it happened, she showed up to a game and in an instant, literally in a second, it’s viral. Luckily, we have an incredible team” of specialists working to promote it across league social channels.
“All you can do is be there and be ready for the moment,” Solis said. “When it happened, we were ready to roll with content like ‘Football 101 for Swifties,’ making sure that Swifties who had never watched a football game, didn’t understand what football was, knew at least the rules of the game. But here’s what’s more important: I bet you didn’t know, there are thousands – thousands – of core NFL fans who actually don’t know who Taylor Swift is.” As her fellow panelists laughed, she continued, “It was also an opportunity for us to educate our core NFL fan on who she is. You guys may have seen some of the video content and social content around the Chiefs dancing their victory laps to Taylor Swift songs. That’s a way to bring our core audience to it.”
The league aimed to “be a student of culture and be ready when the moment hits,” Solis concluded.
The panel, moderated by Matt Fasano, SVP of Next Gen at Wasserman, also featured Melissa Brenner, EVP, Digital Media for the NBA, and Anne Marie Giansutsos, CMO of the Drone Racing League. The central theme was addressing an audience of largely cord-nevers, who take in sports content primarily through social media. “There’s no way they’re going to sit and watch a 4-hour game,” Solis said of Gen Z. “We have to create snackable content that they enjoy.”
Lifestyle content, a way to help younger fans more fully connect with players, has been described within the NFL as the league’s “helmets off” strategy, the exec added, noting that the NBA long ago blazed a trail in that area.
Brenner said each social platform has its own algorithm and sensibility and also evolves constantly, so customizing to each one “in a bespoke, targeted fashion” is crucial. The NBA has a joint venture with Warner Bros. Discovery to operate NBA.com and create official digital content, she noted.