Minnesota Taylor Swift fans geared up, tuned in for Super Bowl LVIII

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Holly Johnson isn't a die-hard football fan.

But this year, the 42-year-old geared up for the Super Bowl well in advance. From her Shakopee home, she crafted and sold shirts emblazoned with a cheeky slogan in the Kansas City Chiefs' red and yellow: "Go Taylor's boyfriend."

"The saying was going around, and I think it's just a really cute and clever way to kind of exemplify what she is doing for the NFL," Johnson said. "Personally, part of the reason I think I'm probably not the hugest NFL fan is the organization is so problematic, especially when it comes to women. ... [Having] such a woman-forward figurehead is good luck for them."

Since going public with their relationship in September, pop star Taylor Swift and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce have boosted NFL TV ratings, driven bets, spawned conspiracy theories and created a will-she-or-won't-she frenzy about the pop star's attendance at games. All this after the runaway success of Swift's Eras Tour launched her into self-made billionaire — rather than just millionaire — territory. The hype culminated Sunday when Swift traveled from one of her concerts in Tokyo to Las Vegas in time to watch the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 25-22. The cameras, of course, panned to her multiple times during the broadcast as she sported accessories bearing Kelce's jersey number.

Swift was a main reason many expect Super Bowl LVIII to set a viewership record. Her appearances during the broadcast — alongside an entourage that included rapper Ice Spice, singer Lana Del Rey and actress Blake Lively — vastly outnumbered glimpses of other celebrity attendees and often showcased the spectator emotion behind any big play.

"That second half, when things got interesting with the Chiefs, she sort-of was every Chiefs fan, I think," said Kristi Piehl, CEO and founder of Media Minefield. "She's biting her nails, she's hugging people, she's jumping around."

Though not immune from criticism — some male fans and pundits have lamented her as a distraction from the sport — Swift has been a boon for the NFL in a way other celebrities who attend games or even have relationships with players have not. As much as her 2023 tour stops injected tens or hundreds of millions of dollars into host cities, her relationship with Kelce has wooed new football fans and generated an estimated $331 million for the league.

Swift fan Edeunda Benson, 25, of Minneapolis, said she started watching football with her family after Swift and Kelce began dating. She now considers herself a Chiefs fan and said she'll likely continue watching even if the relationship doesn't last.

"It's a joke that we're on Swift Watch, me and my 5-year-old, and we joke, and we're like, 'Show the people what they want!'" Benson said. "I think a lot of people gather for football, and it just made it a little more relatable for young girls."

The star power Swift brings has been impossible to ignore: Before the Super Bowl, the broadcast's lead producer told the Athletic a Swift appearance at the game would be "a gift from the Gods." At the Feb. 4 Grammy Awards, where Swift made history with a fourth Album of the Year win, host Trevor Noah quipped, "Are you seeing what's happening right now? As Taylor Swift moves through the room, the local economy around those tables improves."

In his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attributed the season's record conference championship game viewership to "the great competition," but added: "Having the Taylor Swift effect is also a positive."

"I would say that's probably an understatement for the NFL because what she has done is something that nobody else has done, which is bring a different demographic to watching the games," said Mark Jenson, a former advertising and marketing professional and a senior lecturer at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The marriage of the Taylor Swift and NFL brands is like a major corporate merger but with broader public interest, said Jen Hellman, president and CEO at public relations firm Goff Public. What Swift brings to the table, she said, is a strong reputation and the kind of authenticity public relations professionals strive to showcase even at a highly orchestrated event like the Super Bowl.

Still, the league has to be careful not to jeopardize the integrity of the game or favor Kelce instead of other players, Hellman said. In the lead-up to Sunday, there was speculation Kelce might propose to Swift at the game, which Hellman said she thought "would be a bad idea." It's not unheard of, though. Twins shortstop Carlos Correa proposed to his now-wife Daniella during a postgame interview on the field after he won the World Series with the Astros in 2017.

"Yes, there's a lot of celebrities around at the Super Bowl, and that's part of what makes it fun," Hellman said, "but at the end of the day, here are two excellent teams coming together who have worked really hard to get to this place, and I think that would probably be more of a distraction than most NFL fans could probably stomach."

It's not clear if Swift's brand has benefited from the merger to the degree the league has. Part of that is the comparison is hard to make between Swift's about $1 billion net worth as an individual to the NFL's more than $150 billion value as a 32-team league. But part is also because of the backlash her game appearances have drawn from a small but loud group of arguably sexist NFL fans, said Misty Heggeness, an associate professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Kansas and author of the book "Swiftynomics: Women in Today's Economy."

"None of that is new. None of that is surprising. It's the behavior that we as a society engage in when somebody who's not in the majority starts to reach majority status," Heggeness said. "In this case, we live in a society that, outside of our homes, was a society built for men."

Still, she said, it's worth noting how men in the NFL — from Kelce to Chiefs coach Andy Reid to Goodell — have come to Swift's defense publicly.

"I don't know what will end up happening as this tornado of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce grows and grows, and when we reach the saturation point, who knows?" Heggeness said. "But I do feel hopeful that she will, as an extremely talented entertainer, be able to come out of all of this noise still intact because she's got a lot of really good people around her who are willing to speak up amid the nonsense."