In 2007, singer and now-fashion mogul Jessica Simpson showed up to a Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles football game wearing a pink Cowboys jersey to support her then-boyfriend Tony Romo, the Cowboy’s star quarterback.
The Cowboys lost that game after Romo played what is widely considered one of the worst game of his career, statistically speaking. Somehow, despite the fact that Romo was the actual human who played the game, Simpson was blamed by many of the team’s more superstitious fans for the loss – a reaction widely criticized for its misogynistic undertones.
Recalling the “unbelievable, ugly backlash” that Simpson receiving during her Romo era is what motivated Kansas City Chiefs supporter Todd Chance to welcome Taylor Swift’s loyal fanbase, known as Swifties, to Chiefs Kingdom with open arms in September, when the team’s superstar tight end Travis Kelce started dating the superstar singer.
“I knew that there were going to be toxic elements within that fan culture that they were coming into with the NFL,” Chance, 48, told CNN in an interview. “I wanted to let them know that there are plenty of people in Chiefs Kingdom who are welcoming.”
To Chance’s delight, he was also warmly welcomed by Swift’s fans. On his TikTok page, Chance offered his knowledge of Chiefs history to the Swifties of the internet and in return, the Swifties who took notice offered him guidance on which of Swift’s many albums he should listen to first.
In a world often driven by division, Chance and football lovers like him represent a refreshing flavor of fan – one open to not just taking a crash course in Swift Music 101 but crashing into a corner of music culture that is all at once admirable for its power, intimidating for its learning curve and rooted in the core belief that In Swift We Trust.
A swift understanding
Swift first appeared at a Chiefs game in September before the now-couple confirmed their romance. Her presence at the many Chiefs games that have followed has since been met with a variety of opinion, but there is a group of people who have found joy in both.
The amalgamation of the two has brought Swifties into the exciting world of football, and football fans into Swift’s intricate world of music and riddles. As Swift once sang, call it what you want. But who are the “Chiefties,” exactly?
When the Kansas City Chiefs first came to the bustling Missouri town in the 1960s, Chance’s father Harold was a passionate supporter of the team. He went on to become part of a group of fans who called themselves the “Wolfpack,” which was representative of the team’s Wolf mascot.
Harold watched and regaled as the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 1970 and, always a passionate fan, passed down his knowledge and love for the team to his son, who was born shortly after that Super Bowl win.
Chance, now a resident of rural Kansas, grew up as passionate of a Chiefs fan as his father Harold, but they never got to share watching a Super Bowl victory together before Harold passed. Now, as the Chiefs head to Sunday’s Super Bowl as defending champions, on the verge of cementing themselves as a dynastic team, Todd is thinking of his father.
“I think of him and his influence on me being a Chiefs fan and being so patient with me as he explained the rules of the game, and why he loved it as much as he did,” Chance said.
Chance took that same approach on social media when he posted videos to his TikTok page welcoming Swifties into Chiefs Kingdom after the first game Swift attended. He had only been a casual listener of her radio hits. But his interactions with Swifties on social media made him Swift-curious.
“The thing that turned it for me was when all the Swifites – who were so unbelievably welcoming and kind and helpful – steered me toward ‘Folklore,’” he said of the singer’s 2020 album. After he studied the lyrics and understood Swift’s imaginative storytelling through her music, Chance was hooked.
“I get it now,” he recalled thinking at the time.
The fun of fandom
The journey between football and “Folklore” isn’t just about discovering music, but embracing joy, according Megan Jennings.
Jennings, a Kansas City resident and lifelong Chiefs supporter, began when the singer attended her first Chiefs game. “All of a sudden, I was just obsessed with Taylor Swift and needed to know everything about her,” she said.
When she listened to “…Ready For It,” a song off of Swift’s 2017 “Reputation” album, for the first time, Jennings had what she calls a “game-changer” moment. She went from a listener to a lover.
From there, the album was played on repeat and she eventually branched out thanks to her Spotify shuffle of Swift’s musical oeuvre, which exposed her to the full breadth of Swift’s work.
Amid the chaos of every day life – she has four kids – Swift’s music provides an escape.
“It’s really fun for me to listen to her music and dance around with my kids and soak up the moment,” she said.
Jennings is even attending a Swift-themed Super Bowl party on Sunday at her brother-in-law’s home in Kansas City. She plans to bring friendship bracelet-making supplies. For the kids, she claims.
Fun as dance parties and beaded jewelry is, though, Jennings and Chance say their appreciation for Swift goes deeper, too.
“I personally feel connected to the fact that she’s a strong independent woman. She stands up for what she believes in,” Jennings said. “I just think she’s an amazing role model.”
Chance found himself surprised by how much he connected to lyrics written by an artist leading a genre that typically doesn’t end up on his playlists.
“She’s able to write a song and somehow make it feel incredibly personal to you even though it may not be anything that’s even related to something that’s going on in your life,” he said.
The road from Chiefs Kingdom to Swiftie-ville, of course, goes both ways.
Danielle Griffith, who runs an active Swift fan account on TikTok and is independently a fan of football, finds herself fielding questions about rules of the game while interacting with her followers.
“I think a lot of Swifties want to be part of any sort of thing that Taylor immerses herself in,” Griffith told CNN in an interview. “The beauty of Taylor Swift is that she has such a loyal following and she’s so highly revered and respected that I do think that Swifties will probably follow her anywhere.”
There is truth to her statement that is reflected in the facts.
One, for example, is that the Chiefs’ Facebook page had around 2.1 million followers at the beginning of September 2023 – prior to Swift attending her first game later that month – according to data from social media tracking platform CrowdTangle provided to CNN by a Meta representative. The page has gained 400,000 followers since then.
Another fact: Female viewership for the NFL’s 2023 regular season was up 9% from last year, according to Nielsen-measured stats provided to CNN by the NFL. It’s hard to say how much of Swift’s attendance at Chiefs games since her first September game has impacted that increase in female viewers, which is her key demographic, but in the stands, at least, her impact on bringing new fans into the game is certainly felt. Just ask Donna Kelce, mother to Travis and Philadelphia Eagles center Jason.
“I’ve gotten letters, texts and comments when I’m in the airport about how fathers are so happy that their daughters are finally coming to them to try to understand the game,” Donna Kelce told CNN’s Lisa Respers France. “And they couldn’t have thought that would have ever happened before now.”
Kelce said appreciates the familial sentiment.
“I truly believe that it’s bringing families closer. Sports tends to do that,” she added.
As for Chance, he appreciates the community aspect that both sports and music have brought to his world. His newfound community among the Chiefties is the cherry on top.
“I’m just a normal person trying to get by in life,” he said. “And find a few things to be happy about on the way.”
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