Mastercard calls it “The Swift Lift.” That has more of a ring to it than “The Swift Effect,” the more common term used to describe Taylor Swift’s halo impact on local economies when her tour hits town.
Whatever you call it, it is accepted knowledge that the “Eras” star is a rising tide that lifts all merchant’s dinghies. Can the same be said about TV ratings? This is the 115 million viewer question heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl LVIII broadcast.
When the San Francisco 49ers face off against Swift’s boyfriend, two-time Super Bowl champion Travis Kelce and his backup band the Kansas City Chiefs, TV nerds may wonder whether the demographic addition of Swift’s fans to Sunday’s audience will boost the already-gargantuan Big Game’s audience to greater heights.
It’s not an unreasonable hypothesis.
Granted, the holiest of high holidays in all of American sportsballs never starves for attention. Regardless of who’s playing, it is always the highest-rated TV show of any given year.
But that aforementioned audience stat is the bar to beat, set by the 2023 telecast of the Kansas City Chiefs besting the Philadelphia Eagles. That was the most watched Big Game in history, making it a record-setter for the single most popular TV program in the U.S.
What that game didn’t have was a celebrity romance that has captivated tweens, teens and fans of all ages raised on an album catalog that doubles as a diary of boyfriends past. It was not accompanied by a cascade of MAGA conspiracy theories speculating that a cat lady and her tight-end boyfriend are instruments of a Pentagon-run psy-op designed to bend the nation to Dark Brandon’s will.
And honestly, the injection of Swifties into the Super Bowl audience might not make that much of a difference, despite Nielsen data reported by NBC in October indicating significant “Sunday Night Football” demographic gains among girls 12 to 17, women 18 to 24, and women older than 35.
Nevertheless, what harm is it to consider the ratings outcomes of several recent live TV events?
Take last Sunday’s Grammys, our most proximate example. Swift became the first person to win album of the year four times, a possibility that surely motivated her faithful to tune in for the music industry’s biggest night. They were among some 16.9 million music fans that did, a 34% increase over last year’s audience and the most-watched show since the 2020 Grammys broadcast.
Surely Swift’s fandom didn’t carry the night to victory alone. Miley Cyrus’ base likely helped with that, along with Billie Eilish’s congregation and the Beyhive and the chuckle choir drawn to the festivities by Trevor Noah’s superb and Swift-endorsed hosting. This Grammys had all those magnets plus special performances by Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman.
Live music award shows are reliable spectacles, even in off years. More fascinating support for Swift Ratings Lift theories might be had by looking at the Golden Globes’ results. Despite being deadly dull and horrendously emceed, the Globes viewership was up from 2023 by a whopping 50%, attracting 9.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
That’s still less than half of the show’s pre-pandemic averages, but much stronger than anyone who suffered through it might have predicted. Again, this is not entirely thanks to the participation of Time’s Person of the Year. The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon and the multiple nods for “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” could have been a draw. Those movies’ mass market appeal made them the pop stars of the 2023 filmdom.
Know what else was nominated that night? “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which competed against eventual winner “Barbie” in the cinematic and box office achievement category. This ensured Swift’s presence at the ceremony and, perhaps, gave the faithful who watched the Kansas City Chiefs game leading into the Globes a reason to stick around.
If the Globes’ popularity were only related to gawking at stars getting drunk in high style, then the numbers for the Emmys telecast, with its far superior production, should have been robust too. Nope. The Emmys bowed to a record low audience of 4.3 million. That awards show also sailed against massive headwinds, starting with its delayed airing from its usual September berth. If its lateness were the only battle, it still might have performed better.
But the Emmys were also competing against Iowa caucus coverage and, far deadlier, Monday Night Football. People had also seen many of the same stars grace the Globes’ red carpet the weekend prior – and on Emmy night, Swift was not among them.
That won’t be a problem on Sunday, according to a source no less official and silly than Japan’s embassy in Washington, D.C., which released a statement reassuring Swift followers unclear on the concept of private jet travel and time zones that she’d easily make the Las Vegas jaunt from Tokyo.
As for the question of whether one woman’s presence may transform the face of this game’s audience, that depends on who’s being asked. In its yearly Super Bowl viewership survey, digital marketing agency Adtaxi reports that 29% of its respondents claimed to be more likely to follow professional football, including the Super Bowl, based on Swift’s impact, a figure that doubles among her dedicated fans.
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A Boston.com report is more skeptical, citing the NFL’s multiplatform expansion for viewership increases across all demographics, including women. The same story also reports that Dove purchased Super Bowl ad time from CBS for the first time in 18 years, along with e.l.f. and L’Oreal. That didn’t happen last year, when Fenty Beauty cosmetics mogul Rihanna ruled the halftime show.
This year’s midgame entertainment will be headlined by Usher, and while he’s hinted at featuring surprise guests Swift probably won’t be one of them, regardless of what the tinfoil-lined red hat crowd may fear.
If those conspiracists join many tens of millions of us watching the luxury boxes to spot the “Shake It Off” singer, they can’t exactly accuse her of being a divider – and, in fact, may contribute to her raising the ratings game of TV’s biggest live event. The curious will have to wait until Monday to see whether the Effect moves the needle, or how much if any. Haters gonna hate (hate, hate, hate, hate) either way, as the Swifties will move on to the next destination.
Super Bowl LVIII airs live Sunday, Feb. 11 starting at 3:30 p.m. PT/ 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS and streams live on Paramount+
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