After Taylor Swift was spotted cheering on potential new beau Travis Kelce at Sunday’s Kansas City Chiefs game, many had a field day imagining what the Taylor bump would mean for football. All those young Swifties snatching up Kelce jerseys (now on sale at Macy’s, you’re welcome); getting T & T decals on their newly red, white and gold nails; and bringing down the internet with Google searches for “what does tight end mean?”
None of which even crossed my mind. In part because I try to avoid reflexive sexism and patronizing the young whenever I can, but mostly because I was thinking less about the sport and more about the town.
Was Kansas City having its breakthrough moment at last?
My son has been telling me that KC was about to become the next San Francisco — OK, Austin — ever since he moved there a year ago. With a population hovering around 500,000 (2 million in the wider metro area), Kansas City may be small, but as my son assures me on an almost daily basis, it is bristling with artists, writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, sports teams, political activism and, of course, the best BBQ east and west of the Missouri River.
As images of the star cheering the Chiefs from a box at Arrowhead Stadium flew across social and then legacy media, I wondered if maybe, just maybe, he was right.
I mean, Taylor wouldn’t date a Chief if Kansas City wasn’t cool. So would the woman who just boosted local economies all across the country with her record-breaking concert tour soon be sprinkling her pixie dust on the Paris of the Plains?
Could their nascent relationship last long enough for Taylor to be spotted strolling at the Plaza or picking up fresh produce at the River Market? Would she and Kelce be caught canoodling amid the biker merch at Blip Roasters in the West Bottoms, brewery-hopping in the Crossroads or debating sauces at Arthur Bryant’s?
Look at what she did for ketchup and “seemingly ranch.” Just days after a viral tweet showed her eating chicken tenders with said condiments (not quite avant-garde choices, admittedly), Heinz announced a new “ketchup and seemingly ranch” product.
“It’s a new Era for Heinz. Introducing Ketchup and Seemingly Ranch,” the company wrote on its Instagram. “Limited-edition bottles coming soon.”
A mere rumor that Swift was making a post-game visit to Free State Brewing Co. in nearby Lawrence, Kan., sent fans flocking. (She was not there.)
Even if Travis and Taylor don’t wind up together forever & always, maybe KC could at least get its own lyric, right?
The city certainly has endless poetic possibilities. Straddling the Missouri River and the state border, it is a city of bridges that is often at odds with itself — abortion is legal in Kansas, for instance, not so much in Missouri. Surrounded by farmland, sitting smack dab in the middle of the country, it faces the same struggles —with racism, housing instability, addiction and economic disparity — that every American city does and many of those — drought, dwindling agriculture and manufacturing jobs — more associated with rural America.
Far from being a flyover city, however, it also has a brand new $1.5 billion-dollar terminal at the Kansas City International Airport, which brings the absurd scene in “Ted Lasso” in which Ted’s son apparently flies nonstop from London to KC a bit closer to reality — and makes it possible for visitors to eat BBQ literally the moment they get off the plane.
This year, Kansas City hosted the NFL draft; next year it will open the first stadium built specifically for a pro women’s soccer team in the country. By 2025, 3.5 miles of track will be added to the Kansas City streetcar route, stretching it from the riverfront through popular city destinations to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 2026, KC will be one of 16 host cities for the World Cup.
Old stockyards and abandoned red-brick storehouses are gradually filling with hipster bars and coffee shops, galleries and artisanal-everything shops. The riverfront is lined with new apartment buildings and condominiums, and construction just began on the abandoned Rock Island Bridge, which will become an event space filled with restaurants and bars.
And now, perhaps, regular swarms of Swifties.
To be fair, Kansas City already has one shining star: Patrick Mahomes. Earlier this year, the Washington Post’s Annie Gowen crowned Mahomes “The “King of KC,” noting that the Chiefs quarterback has already had a huge impact on the city, not just by leading the home team to three Super Bowls and two victories but also by investing in Kansas City, literally and figurative.
He has stakes in the Kansas City Royals as well as the city’s professional soccer teams, the Current (women’s) and Sporting Kansas City (men’s). He recently brought the San Antonio-based chain Whataburger north (after tweeting that he missed it). And he and his wife, former professional soccer player Brittany Mahomes, are building a home in the city’s southern suburbs.
No wonder they lit up city hall in honor of the birth of each of their children, pink for Sterling, blue for Bronze.
But with apologies to Mahomes, he is not Taylor Swift. When the Empire State Building recently shone red and white, its official X account captioned the photo “ketchup and seemingly ranch.”
If Taylor Swift starts showing up regularly in Kansas City the airport may have to build another terminal. If she posts about liking a certain BBQ sauce, that sauce will sell out in a New York minute.
More importantly, many people who never gave the place a second thought, even after last year’s Super Bowl win, may find themselves thinking that everything is up to date in Kansas City. Including fans on either coast who may not be able to locate the city, or either state it’s in, unless there’s an election map in front of them.
Which in these divided times could only be a good thing.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a relationship that may or may not advance beyond a few dates, though reportedly Swift plans to attend Sunday’s game between the Chiefs and the New York Jets in New York.
It’s also fairly ridiculous. Except it’s not. If Swifties are going to be running around wearing Chiefs jerseys, buying football tickets and the nakedly opportunistic ketchup and seemingly ranch, if pundits are going to continually speculate on what it all might mean for NFL ratings and ESPN subscriptions … well, maybe they could also pay a bit of attention to the city for which Kelce plays.
My son is a bit miffed that it took Taylor Swift for me to acknowledge that he might just be right about the city in which he has chosen to live.
But hey, it takes what it takes to break out in this noisy world. Maybe seeing Taylor Swift yelling her head off at a football game will do the trick.