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When Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce Collide With Prime-Time TV

When Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce Collide With Prime-Time TV
  • PublishedOctober 1, 2023

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From a football perspective, the game on Sunday night between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets is not must-see TV.

The Chiefs, favored by 8.5 points, are the reigning Super Bowl champions and are led by the N.F.L.’s best player. The Jets are flailing after their 39-year-old would-be savior tore his Achilles’ tendon minutes into the season.

But millions of people are thrumming with anticipation anyway: America’s most breathlessly covered situationship — between Kansas City’s All-Pro tight end, Travis Kelce, and pop music’s biggest star, Taylor Swift — is coming to prime-time television.

“The possibility of Taylor attending the game on Sunday night opens up a window to a new audience, definitely,” said Rob Hyland, the coordinating producer of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” “We’re aware we could be reaching new eyeballs.”

“The Taylor spotlight is the bigger of the two, which is sometimes hard for the football people to grasp, but they are two of the biggest media entertainment entities that exist,” said Nora Princiotti, a football writer for The Ringer who also co-hosts a popular music podcast that often focuses on Swift and wrote an article with a glossary of key terms meant to bridge any knowledge gap between the fan bases.

“It’ll be a hard task for anything to top this,” she said about this year’s biggest pop culture moments.

Last week, Fox cameras frequently panned to Swift’s reaction after Kelce touched the ball. Richie Zyontz, Fox’s lead N.F.L. producer, told The Athletic there were extra opportunities to show Swift during a 41-10 blowout.

“It was a terrible game, but it also kind of had a joyful feel throughout because the times we did show her, she was reacting,” he said, insisting that the shots of Swift had not been gratuitous.

Fox also did not play any of Swift’s music. Zyontz wrote that her record label and publishing company had denied the network’s request to do so.

Things could be different on Sunday night: NBC’s promo for the game features several shots of a triumphant Kelce set to the Swift song “Welcome to New York.” (Yes, the New York Jets play in New Jersey.)

Hyland said on Friday that his team had cleared “Welcome to New York” with Swift’s music representatives for the promotional campaign and hoped to do so for the broadcast as well, specifically for a taped element shown right before kickoff.

“If Travis were to score a touchdown, you might hear it one other time,” he said, adding, “This is not going to be a night where you hear a playlist of Taylor Swift songs.”

The network’s top priority, Hyland said, would be the on-field action. He said that it was a little played out for announcers to use not-so-subtle references to Swift lyrics and song titles, and that he wanted his team to find less obvious ways to incorporate the pop star.

“I always prioritize make-you-smile elements, and let’s just say there was a little extra emphasis this week on those elements,” he said. “We’ve designed a few things specific to this story line.”

The Chiefs and a publicist for Swift did not respond to a request for comment.

But with Swift’s Eras Tour briefly on pause, her concert movie hitting theaters this month and Kelce’s commitment to a popular football podcast as his Hall of Fame-caliber career wanes, a supercharged dose of crossover publicity on national television is probably a welcome boost, even for the already famous.

If 30 million people tune in to watch Zach Wilson and the Jets, that’s a fairly good illustration of her impact,” Princiotti said of Swift.

Hyland said that production assistants on his team had come forward with several ideas for the telecast, including an array of TikTok videos in which girlfriends and wives explain to their exasperated male partners that Taylor Swift has helped raise the profile of an otherwise unknown football player.

“You could possibly see a mash-up of those,” Hyland said, “if the game lets us go there.”

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