How the Taylor Swift effect is changing sports fandom and the dark side of being a female fan – ABC News

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How the Taylor Swift effect is changing sports fandom and the dark side of being a female fan
As the attention from pop culture aficionados switches from American football back to the Australian leg of Taylor Swift's Eras Tour, sports fans, and sporting organisations more importantly are wondering if the "Taylor effect" might remain for the next NFL season or impact the participation of more women and girls' in more sports fandoms.
Approximately 123.4 million people tuned in on TV and streaming platforms to watch the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers in one of the most thrilling victories in the final seconds of overtime — an increase from 115.1 million watchers from last year.
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A key driver to the record viewership is undeniably the influence and impact of Swift whose presence at matches supporting partner Travis Kelce has offered an entry point for more non-traditional sporting fans to enjoy football fandom.
However, the new-found interest hasn't changed the harsh reality of the culture that still pervades many men's professional sports.
Model and influencer Morgan Riddle shared her horrific experience of harassment at the Super Bowl on her Instagram stories saying, "In the last 3 days I've been grabbed, groped, harassed, cat called incessantly", which was the cause of Riddle having a panic attack at the game.
"We couldn't even enjoy the game without getting bothered by drunk, rude gross male fans. It's extremely stressful and scary," Riddle said.
Morgan Riddle says she suffered a panic attack after being harassed at the Super Bowl, crystallising troubling findings from multiple studies around the world about sexual and domestic violence around sporting events.
Riddle's experience is not a one-off. Research has shown evidence of many women encountering toxic and exclusionary behaviour by men while attending live sport such as name-calling, inappropriate touching and groping while deeming their participation as "inauthentic".
Research also shows how some women make an effort to "fit in" with the hyper-masculine environment at sporting events so they are less prone to receiving negative attention.
This can include monitoring what they wear, the language they use and laughing along with or excusing sexist, racist and homophobic language as part of the match day experience.
Women mostly do this because they want to feel a sense of belonging in sport and they don't want anything to challenge their love for their sport, even when many are aware of the problematic nature of some men's sporting environments.
This compliance means that the culture continues without much change.
While women have had these experiences at games, sports fans have also long been normalised to see violent behaviour in sport.
Often this behaviour is normalised and explained as passion, "whiteline fever" or being in the heat of the moment.
During the Super Bowl, Kelce was shown on the broadcast pushing and screaming at Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
Kelce later apologised on his co-hosted podcast with brother Jason who said he "crossed the line", but his apology also pointed to the problematic relationship between violence and sport.
Mary Woessner, an expert in safeguarding sport from violent behaviour at Victoria University followed the moment from Kelce's sideline blow-up to his apology.
"Kelce had some very aggressive and violent behaviour towards his coach. This should not be expected or accepted at any level and between any sport stakeholder" Dr Woessner said.
"I appreciate Travis Kelce acknowledging how poor his behaviour was. On the other hand, violence should never beget violence.
"Appropriate reactions to this could include de-escalation, problematising the behaviour and a sanction as necessary."
Kelce suggested his behaviour would have justified a violent response from Reid.
"I deserve it. If he would have cold-cocked me in the face right there, I would have just ate it," he said on New Heights.
Kelce's podcast also offers support to Swifties and new fans coming into the sport through the segment "no dumb questions" which is an important and inclusive offering.
While his relationship with Swift is influencing a more welcoming fan culture, fans are also still able to hold Kelce to account for behaviours they don't accept.
What is exciting about Swift's broader fanbase engaging with football is that for newer sports fans, there is no prior association or assumption on how to "be" a sports fan.
New fans are engaging with the sport in a different way than traditional sports fans through intertwining pop culture and the elements of sport they find fun.
They are wearing and creating different merchandise, celebrating different moments, and consuming different media but they are actively engaging with the sport and contributing financially.
It is reminiscent of emerging research that shows that fans of women's sport do things differently.
They support multiple teams and athletes, create and wear unique merchandise beyond team jerseys and kits and have varying levels of knowledge about the game, but feel accepted into the space regardless.
High profile stars are helping shine a light on the rise of sports apparel meeting the fashion industry — but the history of the movement shows it isn't a level playing field.
The FIFA Women's World Cup is a recent event where this different type of culture was in the spotlight and brought new fans to the sport.
Swift's promotion of the fashion work of Kristin Juszczyk, wife of Kyle Juszczyk who plays for the 49ers, also helped secure Juszczyk an NFL licensing deal to produce more creative clothing options for fans.
Ian Trombetta, the NFL's senior vice-president of social, influencer and content marketing, told AP how the NFL is enjoying the impact of Swift's participation in the league. 
"Hopefully those — especially the young women — that have now gained an interest in not only Travis Kelce, but the NFL more broadly, can stay with us throughout the year and years to come," Trombetta said.
This will take ongoing work from the NFL to drive broader change in the sport's culture.
If Swift never attends another NFL game, what is the game plan?
How are sporting organisations looking to and learning from more inclusive fan engagement to ensure experiences that Riddle and many other women encounter never happen again?
Last week The University of Melbourne hosted the first academic conference in the world dedicated to scholarship, investigation and critique of Taylor Swift — the Swiftposium.
One field of inquiry at the conference was sports management, a discipline only six months ago would not have provided a crossover into Swiftie culture.
Timely, as day one of the Swiftposium, was held on Super Bowl Sunday, Monday for the Australian time zone, and Swift had made it to Las Vegas after performing her Eras tour in Japan the day prior.
The conference, a collective of scholars intersecting pop culture, was abuzz with following the scores and googling overtime rules.
Attendees at the Swiftposium were also spotted in Kansas City Chief jerseys, wearing the colour red or wearing merchandise from independent creators that captured the pop culture and sports crossover.
Shirts that read "NFL — Taylor's Version" and "Go Taylor's Boyfriend".
As the conference progressed throughout the Super Bowl, scholars across disciplines, some who had never engaged with sport let alone the NFL, kept their eyes on the scores and felt engaged with the game.
In a cohort brought together by their interest, love and/or fascination with Swift, all felt welcome in a space to ask the "dumb" questions that are often shamed in sports fandom, and navigate the sports landscape on their own terms and explore their own version of what fandom could feel like.
This is sports fandom. Taylor's version.
ABC Sport has partnered with Siren Sport to elevate the coverage of women and non-binary people in sport.
Dr Kasey Symons is a Lecturer of Communication – Sports Media at Deakin University and a co-founder of Siren: A Women in Sport Collective.
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.
AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

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