Until a couple years ago, Peter Dustin, a stay-at-home father to two girls in Camarillo, Calif., always had an easy time talking with his older daughter, Dakota. But as Dakota, now 12, approaches the teen years, there is “stuff she doesn’t feel comfortable talking with me about,” Dustin said.
So when she returned from Taylor Swift’s concert film in October, he was eager to share a bit of gossip from July: Travis Kelce, star tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, had attended a Swift concert and tried, unsuccessfully, to give her a personalized bracelet. (As anyone with an electronic device knows, the two have since started dating.)
Dustin, a San Francisco 49ers fan, usually watched games alone. Then one day, he noticed Dakota watching 49ers highlights.
“I was like, ‘Come here and give me a hug,’” Dustin said. For him, it’s not just about enjoying sports with his kid. “What I’m hoping is that with our connection through Swifties and Kelce and football, she won’t be embarrassed or uncomfortable to talk to me about anything,” Dustin said.
Dakota is one of many girls who have turned their attention to the NFL to catch a glimpse of Swift, who often appears smiling in a suite at Chiefs games. Not every NFL fan has liked how often NFL broadcasters turn the camera toward Swift, but the league has benefited from increased television ratings and revenue - and dads say they have, too.
“I definitely have an excuse to text her more or call her more than I did in the past,” said Kai Le, a 46-year-old Phoenix father whose teenage daughter, Khoe, lives in Boston. Earlier this season, she texted him that she watches games because she has to “be a supportive Swiftie” and now understands the offensive line and tight end positions.
“If it’s a way for me to connect closer with my daughter, I’ll take every advantage I can,” said Le, a New England Patriots supporter.
Swift, perhaps the most popular American music artist ever, has proven to be an economic powerhouse - her recent tour generated billions of dollars for the U.S. economy. Since her association with the team, Chiefs games were among the most watched this season, and the team’s ticket prices soared.
While women and girls have always made up a part of the NFL fandom, there is no question that Swift has played a role in increasing viewership: For one of Swift’s first appearances at a Chiefs game, ratings among females age 12-17 increased 53 percent over the season-to-date average for Sunday night games, according to Nielsen data.
Roberto Muro, the son of a football coach, played running back at New Mexico State and for the Barcelona Dragons in the now-defunct NFL Europe. He now teaches high school history and Spanish and is a father of two girls in Phoenix.
Muro doesn’t regret playing but sometimes feels like his father imposed his interests onto him, and as he became older and played professionally, he began viewing it more as a job than a passion. Still, on Sundays, Muro watches the 49ers. His older daughter, Ariyah, now 7, used to ask him if he planned to watch “Go Niners” because that’s what he said whenever she entered the room during games.
She has since learned that it’s called “football.” And after his wife took Ariyah to see Swift’s concert film, she started singing her songs and told her dad that she was a Swiftie.
Muro was initially unsure whether to tell Ariyah that Swift attended the games to watch her boyfriend because if they soon broke up - a scenario that would probably find its way into Swift’s lyrics - he didn’t want her to “get a bad perception on relationships,” he said.
But once he saw that Swift was regularly attending games and that the relationship appeared real, he and his daughter started to watch them together and make up songs about the players.
“There isn’t a better feeling - not because she is interested in football, but because she wants to spend time with me,” said Muro, who switched from coaching football to coaching girls’ sports so he can instruct his daughters if they become interested.
The Swift-football connection flows both ways. Marc Bourdon, an artist and custodian, enjoys bonding with his 17-year-old daughter Emerson during Chiefs games. Bourdon, who does glass and stone work, made her a fidget spinner in Chiefs’ colors to hold during games, which Emerson says she now watches weekly to see Swift “happy and in a new element.” (She also watches “New Heights,” a YouTube show and podcast hosted by Kelce and his brother, Jason, also a star football player.) But Bourdon also has a new hobby: entering contests with Emerson to win Swift concert tickets that otherwise can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
“We have fun trying to find more,” said Bourdon, who lives in Belleville, Ontario, and has so far not had any luck.
Bourdon admits he occasionally needs a break from Swift’s music, but he admires how she helped other artists in 2015 by announcing she would withhold a new album from Apple Music unless the company paid artists royalties during its three-month free trial period for subscribers. (After Swift’s open letter, Apple almost immediately reversed its plan.)
“That just made me want to bow down to her,” said Bourdon.
The attention to Swift at NFL games has drawn some pushback and mockery. “The big difference between the Golden Globes and the NFL? At the Golden Globes, we have fewer camera shots of Taylor Swift,” host Jo Koy said. In a Fox News interview, Hall of Fame former coach Tony Dungy said Swift is a reason younger generations are “disenchanted” with sports.
“There’s so much on the outside coming in. Entertainment value and different things that’s taking away from what really happens on the field,” Dungy said.
The fathers interviewed for this story bristled at the detractors.
“If anyone complains about it, it’s because they are jealous,” Bourdon said.
Dustin thinks there are several reasons for the criticism of the Swift and Kelce phenomenon, including politics and “knucklehead people that aren’t adapting to” a world in which women are leaders.
“That’s what we have preached in this house, that they are going to be independent, modern thinkers,” said Dustin, who now has more company during games.
Dakota explained that fashion designer Kristin Juszczyk, who is married to 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, made a Chiefs jacket with Kelce’s number, which Swift wore to a game, making Kristin famous.
“I like how she uses things that happened to her in her music; like if Kanye West hadn’t called her a snake, then we wouldn’t have” the album “Reputation,” said Dakota, who likes to sew and discusses fashion with her dad.
Dakota also appears to take it easier on him these days. She said she used to just root for whatever team he liked least to “mess with him.”
But recently, she was talking with a friend who said, “Oh my gosh, I’m totally a Chiefs fan now because of Taylor Swift,” Dakota recalled. “And I’m like, ‘you do you, girl, but I’m a 49ers fan.’”