Feb 6, 2024 - Economy

The Taylor Swift Economy is now a high school curriculum

Photo illustration of portraits of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce drawn on a chalkboard next to an upward trending line with hearts and dollar bill signs at the arrow top.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: James Devaney/GC Images and David Eulitt/Getty Images

Taylor Swift's relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is more than just a love affair, it's an economics case study, says University of Kansas professor Misty Heggeness.

What's happening: She's created a Taylor Swift curriculum — Swiftynomics 101 —  to help high school and college teachers convey economics lessons by analyzing the 34-year-old pop star's effect on the NFL's business.

  • Heggeness uses the Swift-NFL case study to teach something called the Theory of the Firm and to drill down into the economics of discrimination.

What they're saying: "It's just such a fun topic," says Lynn MacDonald, an economics professor and interim director of the St. Cloud State University Center for Economic Education who suggested the idea for this curriculum to Heggeness.

  • 109 teachers signed up for a webinar on the curriculum last week — and at least one raised the topic with his class, though he hasn't implemented the whole thing yet.

The big picture: Swift's been good for the NFL's bottom line her presence at Chiefs games has increased viewership, particularly among young women and Gen Z.

  • Swift fans aren't just watching, they're buying NFL merch and posting about the Chiefs — and driving a heck of a lot of news stories about the NFL. That's valuable brand marketing — $331 million in value, according to one estimate conducted before the Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl.

Hooking younger fans is crucial for the NFL. Gen Z is less into professional sports than their parents. Anything that gets them into the sport is inherently valuable.

  • "For the major sports leagues, attracting young audiences is a matter of survival," the New York Times reported a couple of years ago. "Whether the leagues like it or not, American society has crossed a Rubicon that imperils the business of traditional sports."

The first lesson in Heggeness' curriculum involves the Theory of the Firm, a big-picture way of conceptualizing how companies work. One key piece: Businesses (in this case the NFL) make decisions to help maximize profits.

  • If the goal is to boost the bottom line in the short term, a company might trim costs or lay off workers.
  • The goal could be long-term — like cultivating a new generation of customers or fans. Here, Swift is doing that work for the sports league — and the NFL wouldn't want to get in the way of that.

Meanwhile: The boost to the NFL's brand didn't come without a downside. A group of core football fans is critical of all the attention Swift is getting. (There are even wild fringe conspiracy theories from the anti-Swifties on the right.)

  • The criticism offers more advanced students a lesson about the economics of discrimination, Heggeness says. That's the idea that discrimination — against certain kinds of customers or workers — is inefficient so companies won't do it.
  • "That rarely holds up in real life," she says. But in the case of Taylor + NFL, it "actually kind of holds." Instead of breaking away from boosting Swift, the NFL has held relatively firm in the wake of that subset of critics.
  • NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Chiefs owner Clark Hunt have made positive statements about Swift's impact on the business. The relationship is "great for the league," Goodell said in November.

Between the lines: The criticism of Swift's presence at football games also offers other lessons about the intersection of gender, economics, and the workplace.

  • To wit, there was little objection to Swift last summer, when she was garnering attention for the "Eras" tour's big economic impact. But when she started gaining ground in the traditionally male space of the NFL, that's when the blowback started, Heggeness points out.

The bottom line: "Students don't always come to economics and think it's super interesting or relevant," MacDonald says. "They maybe have a negative view of it."

  • The Taylor Swift curriculum shows that economics can involve things that they care about.
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