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Was Taylor Swift at Travis Kelce’s game a PR move?

A viral conspiracy theory claims Taylor Swift attended New York Jets game to minimise press surrounding her private jet usage. Amber Raiken speaks to PR experts about whether the claim is true, and what these theories say about Swift’s place in the media

Tuesday 17 October 2023 21:22 BST
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Days after Taylor Swift attended the Kansas City Chiefs game against the New York Jets, dedicated Swifties invented a new conspiracy theory about why she was there in the first place.

On 24 September, Swift sent shockwaves through the internet when she accepted Travis Kelce’s invitation to his game at Arrowhead Stadium amid ongoing rumours that they’re dating. The speculation surrounding her role in the sports world continued when NBC’s Sunday Night Football launched a Swift-themed ad about her expected appearance at the Jets game the following week. That Sunday, fans were not disappointed when she was seen cheering in a suite at MetLife Stadium with a star-studded friend group that included couple Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Sophie Turner, and Sabrina Carpenter.

Since then, fans have developed a conspiracy theory behind Swift’s attendance at the Jets game, with one even calling her attendance a “PR Master Class”. In one viral post shared to X - formerly known as Twitter – business consultant Brittany Muller shared a screenshot of the type of articles that popped up when she Googled “Taylor Swift’s jets”. In her theory, she claimed that Swift “attended the Jets game as a strategic SEO [search engine optimisation] play to bury her jet emissions stories”.

The “Style” singer faced criticism in August 2022 when sustainability marketing firm Yard revealed her private jet had emitted 8,293.54 tonnes of carbon dioxide that year, and reported that she’d taken 170 trips and travelled an average of about 140 miles per flight. At the time, representatives for Swift quickly came to her defense, claiming: “Taylor’s jet is loaned out regularly to other individuals. To attribute most or all of these trips to her is blatantly incorrect.”

Despite fan theories that Swift attended the Jets game to hide digital articles about her private jet usage, PR experts don’t necessarily agree. Instead, they’ve expressed that the popular conspiracy theory has ultimately highlighted the obvious: Swift has become a cultural phenomenon in the media.

Speaking to The Independent, Tim Williams - a PR manager at Lobeline Communications, an entertainment public relations firm in Los Angeles - said that the theory about Swift’s private jet was a stretch.

“She has so much great PR, and has so many great stories out there about her. People love her so much that I think a story about her private jet is so minimal. That wasn’t like a national tragedy,” he said.

Swift isn’t necessarily that different from other celebrities who have their own private jets. In fact, Yard also found that in 2022, Floyd Mayweather omitted 7,076.8 tonnes of CO2 from his private jet. Jay-Z’s jet trailed behind him by omitting 6,981.3 tonnes of CO2. Other stars on the list of avid private jet users also include Alex Rodriguez, Blake Shelton, Steven Spielberg, and Oprah Winfrey.

Williams claimed that some fans may not have been surprised by Swift’s private jet usage in 2022. “Let’s face it, in terms of the music business, this has been going on forever,” he said. “From Led Zeppelin to today’s rock stars, people have used private jets. They almost have to for the type of work that they do, as they travel from one city to another.”

He also defended Swift’s PR team against the conspiracy theory, noting that it would be a waste of time to use SEO practices - which utilises key words and phrases to improve website traffic - to push stories about her private jet down on Google search. Instead, he believed that if Swift’s goal was to prevent certain stories from gaining traction online, then she would be talking about more significant moments in her life.

For example, Swift’s fans managed to completely take over Ticketmaster in November 2022, when the website shut down entirely due to the overwhelming number of people buying tickets for her US Eras Tour. “Taylor’s PR would be much smarter by going out and talking about how many shows that she’s selling out and how quickly they’re selling out. Or, she’d be much wiser to go out and talk about the latest song that she’s dropping. Those things would be receiving much more press than going to a Jets football game,” he added.

“Whether it’s something involving a charitable organisation, a new collaboration with an artist, or even overcoming something in their own personal life, those types of stories will resonate more with the public or with the media than trying to manipulate it with some scheme or idea to push Google searches,” the PR manager continued.

Speaking to The Independent, Molly McPherson – a PR expert in Massachusetts who specialises in crisis communication strategy – agreed with Williams, noting that it doesn’t seem likely that Swift used the Jets game for SEO purposes. While she acknowledged that fans will never know whether the football game and private jet usage have any connection to each other, the conspiracy theory speaks volumes about the “Anti-Hero” singer’s role in the media.

It goes without saying that Swift is constantly making waves online, especially given her devoted fan base, which is something that McPherson believes the Grammy winner is aware of. “You know, we’ll never know if she did this intentionally or not,” McPherson said about Swift’s appearance at the Jets game. “She packed that private suite with friends and colleagues and well-known people that she knew would draw attention. That without a doubt was intentional. For example, Sophie [Turner] attended the game after Taylor helped her release an official response to her divorce from Joe Jonas, which was simply the two women walking out of dinner together. And it became highly publicised content.”

McPherson also acknowledged that while the technological side behind the process of SEO isn’t easy to understand, it could still be possible to create new content that diminishes what pops up on Google when you search “Taylor Swift’s jets”. Although Swift’s private jet usage has been brought back to light, fans aren’t necessarily discussing the controversy surrounding her carbon emissions. According to McPherson, there could be a strategic reason why her private jet usage has been publicised again.

”Instead of everyone talking about the jet emission story, they’re talking about the SEO about the jet emission story. She’s created a media moment where no one is asking her about jet emission stories. They’re just talking about the story. So, that could actually be a counter offense to the PR mechanism that paid off,” she claimed.

McPherson went on to agree with Williams that Swift has been publicised in a positive light, despite the backlash she faced for her private jet usage last year. Not to mention Swift has made major career moves throughout the last year, specifically due to her Eras Tour, which is why her jet emissions didn’t necessarily affect her fan base.

“Her decision to not address the jet emission story could have been a calculated move, in order to bury the story with these bigger moves that were coming,” she said. “For example, the Eras Tour announcement, the ticket relationship, and the concert itself. This could have all perhaps led to a future relationship with an NFL player.”

Ultimately, it appears the SEO conspiracy theory surrounding Swift’s attendance at the Jets game and her private jet usage is indeed just a theory. As dedicated Swifties know, the “All Too Well” singer is notoriously private about her personal life, which has prompted fans to come up with even more theories about her. Despite the fact that Swift usually chooses not to respond to these theories - whether they’re about her love life or her career - McPherson believes that the singer is well aware of these rumours. Given her reputation, Swift knows that theories about her aren’t stopping anytime soon.

“The rumour mill surrounding Taylor Swift is always in overdrive but until we hear from Taylor Swift herself, all the public has is theory,” she explained. “In the world of celebrities, theories are the currency. They create questions, and questions come from conversations, and conversations have two sides. When you have two sides, you’re gonna have multiple people chiming in on those sides. Another master stroke from Taylor Swift: she is creating content to ask questions without ever providing the answer. The answer stops the conversation. So, just keep the rumour mill going.”

However, Williams acknowledged that despite the ongoing speculation that exists about Swift, fans shouldn’t become too reliant on it. In a majority of cases, these fan theories don’t speak the truth like the singer herself does.

“I think the reason Taylor has a great image is because it’s based on reality. That’s the best thing you can do,” he said. “The problem is that publicists sometimes try to change people, and you can’t do that. It never works out in the end, when you try to create something that isn’t reality, it will eventually be sussed out. It may take a while for people and the press to catch on, but at some time, they will. You’re best to take just the realities of that person and present those, that’s what you need to do.”

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