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Taylor Swift’s Financial Impact May Be Even Greater Than We Had Expected

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For as much as has been said and written about Taylor Swift in recent years, there’s a chance people have been underestimating the 33-year-old musician’s unique place in the business world.

Swift’s prowess as a recording artist and songwriter is well known. As the most popular artist in the United States across several consumption metrics, she has 11.7 million equivalent album units this year through Sept. 21 — about 70% more than the No. 2 artist, Morgan Wallen, according to Luminate. (EAUs convert streams and track sales into album units.) Swift also has the highest album sales, physical album sales, digital album sales, digital track sales, on-demand audio streams and airplay spins so far in 2023.

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But in recent weeks, Swift’s status as super-celebrity became more apparent when she single-handedly brought a legion of young females into the professional football fold. Her attendance at two Kansas City Chiefs games, her undefined relationship with Chiefs player Travis Kelce and frequent pictures of her watching and celebrating from a luxury box above the playing field have done for the NFL what no amount of corporate-led marketing has been able to achieve. TV ratings for the Oct. 1 game between the Chiefs and New York Jets averaged 27 million viewers, the second-highest number for Sunday Night Football this season. More impressively, viewing among girls 12 to 17 was 53% higher than the season’s first three Sunday Night Football broadcasts. Women 18 to 24 were up 24%. Women over 35 were up 34%.

The Taylor Swift Effect created large ripples beyond TV ratings. Sales of Kelce’s Kansas City jersey spiked nearly 400% in the days following the Sept. 24 game Swift attended against the Chicago Bears. Secondary market prices for tickets to the Chiefs’ Oct. 1 game in New Jersey against the New York Jets rose 43%. U.S. Google searches for Travis Kelce jumped more than 14 times from Sept. 23 to Sept. 25 and remain more than three times greater than search traffic before the Sept. 24th game, according to Google Trends. Search traffic for the Kansas City Chiefs rose 13-fold over that three-day span.

That ability to cross over to older generations separates Swift from other Gen Z idols. “She’s the equivalent of a four-quadrant movie,” says Brad Gelfond, a former brand partnership executive at Warner Records. That’s a Hollywood term for a movie with broad appeal that attracts four demographic “quadrants” of an audience: females under 25, males under 25, females over 25 and males over 25. Swift’s place in mainstream pop culture reached a new level in 2022 when demand for tickets to The Eras Tour pre-sale effectively broke Ticketmaster’s platform. That led to a Senate hearing on Jan. 24, during which lawmakers such as 63-year-old Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and 77-year-old Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) quoted her song lyrics, as well as a plethora of proposed Swift-themed legislation that followed.

Few artists have a similarly broad-reaching appeal. One current artist with cross-generational pull is Beyoncé, but even that comparison is limited, says Ash Stahl, CEO of Flighthouse Media, a digital media producer targeting Gen Z. While Beyoncé is pop royalty, Swift is more relatable. “I would never expect to see Beyonce on screen at an NFL game chest bumping the guy next to her,” she says. That kind of appeal is rare in Hollywood, too. “She’s up there with The Rock,” says Gelfond. That would be Dwayne Johnson, the professional wrestler-turned-actor who transformed from reliable box office draw to media mini-mogul. Johnson is co-owner of a film and TV company, Seven Bucks Productions (Skyscraper, Jungle Cruise, Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw), as well as co-owner of the XFL professional football league.

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Among Gen Z, Swift has a sway and longevity that surpasses social media stars popular with the demographic. TikTok star Charli D’Amelio comes close, but her popularity was short-lived, says Stahl. Meanwhile, Vine and YouTube star David Dobrik “didn’t keep his hands clean,” his career tarnished following multiple accusations of sexual assault, bullying, professional negligence and cultural insensitivity against him and his collaborators. Being brand-safe is an important factor in keeping and attracting fans.

YouTuber Mr. Beast is popular among young men but lacks a female fan base, adds Stahl. “‘Mr. Beast, hold my beer,’ said Taylor Swift,” jokes Marcie Allen of MAC Consulting, who has decades of experience working with artists and brands. Aside from attracting fans from different generations, what separates Swift from Gen Z’s online stars is her ability to sell out stadiums. While live-streamer Kai Cenat is facing charges of inciting a riot in New York with a PlayStation 5 giveaway gone awry, Swift’s current tour could surpass $1 billion in ticket sales. What’s more, Swift’s tour could generate $4.6 billion in economic impact for local economies, according to research company QuestionPro. Swift versus these other Gen Z celebrities simply isn’t a close comparison.

With unrivaled popularity and cultural cachet, one must wonder what Swift is doing — or could possibly do — between album and tour cycles. “She’s positioned to be the Reese Witherspoon of music,” says Allen. Witherspoon, an actress known for such movies as Legally Blonde and Walk the Line, founded a production company, Hello Sunshine, in 2016, to give females a greater voice in Hollywood. Hello Sunshine’s predecessor, Pacific Standard, produced the film Gone Girl as well as Wild, in which Witherspoon played the starring role. It wasn’t long before the smart money caught on to Witherspoon’s desire to build a female-first media company. Candle Media, backed by investment titan Blackstone and co-founded by two former Disney executives, acquired a stake in Hello Sunshine for $900 million in 2021.

Could Swift follow Witherspoon and Johnson into building a media fortune? A clue comes from growing demand for the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie. Set to open Oct. 13, it has advance ticket sales of $100 million a week before debuting in more than 8,500 theaters worldwide and is expected to top the U.S. box office. Swift is a producer of the Sam Wrench-directed film and cut a direct deal with AMC to distribute it.

Swift may be outgrowing the typical ways an artist makes money — touring, recording, writing songs, promoting products and the like. And she has proven to have a clear head for business, perhaps most notably by re-recording her Big Machine-era catalog while withholding synch opportunities for the recordings sold to Ithaca Holdings in 2019 and then to Shamrock Holdings in 2020. The move has earned her tens of millions of dollars, if not more, while padding the release schedule between new albums with fresh batches of songs and creating new moments built off the nostalgia and goodwill she’s built up. It’s all evidence that Swift doesn’t mind taking risks if she’ll reap the rewards and that she has enough brand loyalty to pull off something big. “Taylor is so far past doing a brand partnership deal,” says Allen. “She can build her own brand.”

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today10/06/2023


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