How Taylor Swift and Lionel Messi have impacted American sports with their massive star power

This year’s Super Bowl is expected to be one of the most watched games in the history of the NFL, and that’s partly thanks to a superstar who won’t be on the field. Yes, we’re talking about Taylor Swift.

Swifties are expected to tune in on Sunday to catch Taylor Swift at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. She will be supporting her boyfriend, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, after flying back from her Eras Tour stop in Japan to be there.

How Taylor Swift and Lionel Messi have impacted American sports with their massive star power

Do fans really care if Swift attends? At least one in five Americans say they’re tuning in because they or someone in their household want to catch her at the game, according to a recent Seton Hall University poll. That’s 21% of Americans, a staggering stat.

There’s no denying it. The Taylor Swift effect is real. But the NFL isn’t the only American sports league currently getting a massive boost from one international superstar.

In the same way Swift has dominated the psyche of American sports fans since September when she was first spotted inside the Kelce family suite at Arrowhead Stadium, Lionel Messi has taken the American sports world by storm since his signing with MLS’ Inter Miami in July. Messi will also be visible during the Super Bowl, making his first appearance in a commercial during the big game.

Messi in his Super Bowl commercial. (Image: Michelob)

Messi and Swift are brands that transcend markets. Wherever they go, profits follow.

The Eras Tour is expected to be one of the most lucrative concerts in American history.  Swift stands to make as much as $4.1 billion, Peter Cohan, an associate professor of management at Babson College, estimated in October. Her most recent three-show run in Japan is expected to boost the Japanese economy by $228 million, says USA Today’s Bryan West, a reporter hired by the national outlet to solely cover Swift.

Viewership for all NFL games is up 7% this season, according to Nielsen’s numbers. That is on track with the record-setting viewership numbers all season. It also includes an 8.1% jump among 12 to 17-year-old girls — a sector that could very well have been drawn to the league by Swift’s influence. According to Apex Marketing, Swift has generated $331.5 million in brand value for the Chiefs and the NFL.

Messi Mania has fueled a similar frenzy. Messi sold more jerseys within 24 hours of his signing than any other player changing teams, including Tom Brady and Lebron James, reported the Associated Press. (Sales of Travis Kelce jerseys spiked 400% the day Swift attended her first Chiefs game.)

After Messi’s signing to MLS, tickets for every Inter Miami game, home or away, sold out. Inter Miami in November said it already sold out its season tickets for the new season, which starts this month and will be the first full season with Messi on their roster. It didn’t matter that prices in some sections of their stadium doubled.

Increases in MLS viewership and attendance naturally followed. It’s worth adding that Apple brokered an unprecedented revenue-sharing deal with Messi, who stands to profit from increased subscriptions for Apple’s MLS Season Pass with Apple TV. Meanwhile, Inter Miami’s club valuation went from $600 million before Messi’s arrival to over $1 billion now.

The examples of Swift and Messi impacting businesses large and small are endless.

When Messi shared a photo of his favorite pizza on social media, the Miami shop that made it soon had a line around the block. When Swift was spotted wearing a TNT (Taylor and Travis) bracelet as she celebrated on the field after the AFC Championship game, the small jeweler that made it had a more than 2,000% jump in sales.

Taylor Swift attends the playoff game between the Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins on Jan. 13. (Photo: AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Yet, the Messi and Swift effects, as they pertain to MLS and the NFL, are not the same.

“There is one huge fundamental difference between the two,” said Daniel Ladik, the chief methodologist for the aforementioned Seton Hall poll. Ladik is an associate professor and chair of the marketing department at the university. He is also a soccer aficionado.

“MLS would be absolutely nothing in part of the global sports narrative without Messi,” Ladik said. “The NFL would still be colossal without Taylor Swift. She just found a way to kick it into another gear.”

Messi changed the trajectory of MLS last year, Ladik said. Referencing Apple’s $2.5 billion, 10-year deal with the league, he added, “It didn’t seem like those subscription numbers were going all that well. Then Messi joining (the league) and that unbelievable run they had in the Cup, that changed the entire narrative of soccer in the United States, and beyond the United States. Everything about that conversation is about one of the world’s most recognizable people at the top of their game, who is actually on the field.”

Meanwhile Swift is far from the field. Her only obvious connection to the NFL is her relationship with Kelce.

“To have an individual have that much impact on something that they don’t play in, perform in or are directly involved in, is unprecedented,” Ladik said. “I can’t think of another situation at any point, sport or non-sport, that has someone from the outside that had such a dominant influence on everything.”

It’s unlikely that Swift’s impact on the NFL will be long-lasting for the league, unless the NFL is strategic in its attempt to capture or sustain any newfound interest from young fans tuning in to the Super Bowl on Sunday.

“The onus is on the NFL to be the marketing machine that they are to find a way to sustain it,” Ladik said. “The onus is on the NFL to figure out a way to make this sustainable — not that they’re going to be able to keep 100% of the gains, but a third of the gains for both the younger demographic and the female demographic? That’s a win.”

Ladik expects Messi’s effect on MLS will be long-lasting, unlike the hype brought on by the many international stars before him. Before the “Messi effect,” there was the “Beckham experiment” (a nod to a book written by the late Grant Wahl). And before MLS, Americans had arguably the most iconic footballer playing on U.S. soil, with Brazil’s Pele on the New York Cosmos.

“There’s certainly no question that Beckham was an inflection (point) in the history of MLS, but it didn’t sustain itself,” Ladik said. “I have a feeling that they learned their lesson that time around, and the Messi effect this time will sustain itself.”

Could Swift be an inflection point for the NFL? That, it seems, will be up to the league.

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