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As we near Super Bowl LVIII, young women are feeling particularly enchanted by the NFL.
According to Morning Consult Brand Intelligence data, Gen Z and millennial womens’ total favorability toward the professional sports league reached its highest-ever level in December 2023, thanks in large part to Taylor Swift’s newfound romance with Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Young women’s support for the NFL had been slowly recovering since dropping to all-time lows in mid-2017 after then-President Donald Trump called for the firing of any players who kneeled during the national anthem at games. Fast forward to July 2023 — when rumors about a Swift-Kelce relationship first began circulating online — marked a clear breakthrough, catapulting that steady climb into rapid growth.
The NFL’s popularity among women has been growing — Swift bumped it up
Between July and December of last year, the share of Gen Z and millennial women with favorable opinions of the NFL grew 11 percentage points from 53% to 64%. This demographic also exhibited notable growth among several other key brand metrics, including positive buzz and weekly usage.
Young Women Love the NFL More Than Ever Before
The data makes it clear: Taylor Swift’s legions of young female fans tuning in to watch her support Travis Kelce is undoubtedly the X-factor that propelled the NFL’s popularity among women to new heights throughout the 2023 season. Her presence has driven record female viewership of regular season games, generated hundreds of millions of dollars in brand value for both the NFL and the Chiefs, and spawned a cottage industry of Swift-Kelce merchandise.
Still, the league was outperforming many of its competitors among the female demographic long before the Swift-Kelce relationship was confirmed last September, suggesting Swift’s arrival on the scene was actually more of a “cherry on top” situation for NFL marketers — who in recent years have invested heavily in channels (like TikTok), interest areas (like fashion and beauty) and online content (like influencers) that Morning Consult research shows are especially popular with young women. Even more tactically, the NFL continues to dedicate significant resources to growing women’s participation in flag football, an effort it called attention to via a 90-second commercial during Super Bowl LVII last year.
The NFL’s net favorability is now neck-and-neck with the MLB among women
While all major leagues experienced a widespread dip on most measures during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the NFL has recaptured its existing support among women (and then some) at a quicker clip than its competitors. In December 2023, U.S. women’s net favorability rating of the league reached 37, a figure not seen since early 2017 — just before the U.S. national anthem kneeling protests began.
Post-Pandemic, the NFL’s Net Favorability Among Women Is Growing Faster Than Competitor Leagues
The NFL’s meaningful moving of the needle with women as of late offers lessons for men’s professional sports more broadly, which have long grappled with the question of how to effectively market to female audiences. (An issue that’s only intensified alongside the coming of age of Gen Zers, whose broad interest in live sports continues to lag behind that of older generations.)
Sure, the NFL is incredibly lucky that one of its players happened to earn the romantic attention of arguably the highest-profile star on the planet. But its sustained, unabashed effort to involve itself in typically female-leaning spaces should not be understated.
2023 highlighted women’s willingness to spend big on products and experiences that resonate with them, meaning the NFL would be wise to keep prominently featuring women and their interests at the highest levels of its game, and in all of the other worlds its game touches.
And considering the league just granted Kristin Juszczyk, designer of Taylor Swift’s viral gameday puffer jacket and wife of San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a licensing deal to use NFL marks in her future designs — it appears to be doing just that.