Taylor Swift and her blockbuster Eras Tour offer event professionals valuable insights into community, inclusivity, engagement, and much more.
When you think of Taylor Swift, Time’s 2023 Person of the Year, chart-topping hits, sold-out stadium concerts, and her flourishing romance with Kansas City Chief superstar Travis Kelce probably come to mind. You may not immediately draw a connection between this iconic artist and the world of event planning. Nevertheless, they have more in common than you might expect.
Taylor Swift and her blockbuster Eras Tour offer valuable insights to event planners about creating unforgettable experiences. Fans rave about the show’s high-tech stagecraft and intimate moments. Event professionals should take note.
The 34-year-old Swift has received countless accolades for her shows, which feature elaborate productions with intricate lighting, sound systems, and stage setups for performances that span more than 180 minutes, with more than 40 songs from at least nine albums. There are 16 costume changes, pyrotechnics, and more.
But there is much more to her shows than impressive production. “She has the ability to connect with every single demographic and is inclusive, not exclusive,” says Jennifer Veselko, CITP, CMP Fellow, and event strategist at Maritz Global Events. And Veselko speaks beyond her professional interests. She has attended Swift’s last three tours, including Eras with her daughter Natalie, who is now 18. “She has the right message and energy that touches everyone in a special way. If we could all afford to contract her for every general session we do, we would. You can just feel her positivity.”
The landmark Eras Tour is record-breaking. It was number one worldwide and in North America last year. According to Pollstar, a concert industry data company, it brought in $1.04 billion, with 4.35 million tickets sold across 60 tour dates.
Her concerts ignite significant economic booms in each city, similar to the economic impact of a citywide convention. Swift played in 20 cities — 53 nights of concerts — in the U.S., and according to the U.S. Travel Association, each Swift fan spent an average of $1,300 on travel, hotels, food, and merchandise. “Swiftonomics” could lead to a global economic impact worth $13 to $28 billion, reports U.S. Travel.
The impact a Taylor Swift concert has on a destination is similar to a Super Bowl. “Eras tour average attendance is 75,000 per concert, and a Super Bowl is about 70,000 per event. The difference is a Swift event has about three concerts per city, not one,” says Ed Tiryakian, associate professor of corporate finance and business economics at Duke University.
Surprise and Delight
With unexpected songs and special guests, Swift knows how to thrill her audience. “Similarly, surprise and delight is a common theme that I weave through every single one of my events, and I have done that for decades,” says Kate Patay, CPCE, vice president of engagement at Terramar. Patay is a self-proclaimed Swiftie, having attended three Eras Tour shows in the U.S. from completely different perspectives — the front row, a first-level suite, and a third-tier balcony. “You are guaranteed a fabulous experience from every seat,” says Patay.
Patay’s next stop on the Eras Tour will be Paris this May. A group of industry colleagues will join her on their way to Frankfurt to attend IMEX.
Patay admires many things about Swift, including the sense of community she creates. “She designs an inclusive space for everyone, and there is such positive energy. Everyone compliments and supports each other, and there is not one ounce of negativity,” Patay says.
Swift is such an inspiration that Patay partnered with Tahira Endean on a session during IMEX 2022 about everything she has learned from Swift. Practical takeaways that can be applied to one’s personal or professional life were featured, says Patay. “Instead of a bunch of boring slides, the session features snippets of lyrics and situations in which Taylor showed great emotional intelligence,” Patay adds.
“Evermore” a Story Teller
Swift captivates audiences with the power of storytelling, just like some of the best events that incorporate story elements into their overall messaging and branding.
“Her themed storytelling with narrative energy and purposeful flow translates to events,” says Ken Holsinger, senior vice president of strategy at Freeman.
Swifties are the driving force behind her success; they are not just spectators but active participants. In addition, “Easter eggs,” hidden messages, are discovered in her videos and appearances, keeping fans engaged. She also maximizes social media to communicate directly with her fans. And they love it. And respond.
Her mastery of engagement also involves surprising fans by unexpectedly revealing new music. At this year’s Grammy Awards, she shocked and delighted a global audience by announcing her new album, “The Tortured Poets Department.”
“How does she find the time?” many asked, as she has been touring the world and supporting her boyfriend at many Kansas City Chiefs games.
14 Grammy Awards
It was a record-breaking night for Swift, who won the Album of the Year Grammy. This makes her the first artist to win this category four times. In total, this global icon has won 14 Grammy awards.
She has cultivated a personal brand through her connection with her fans. Similarly, the best events connect with the audience.
Simon Thewlis, managing director of Event Pty, highlights how Swift connects with her fans before they see her live. ”When they get to the concert, most of her audience already has a very strong connection with her. That emotional connection is already there,” says Thewlis, adding that the concert only builds on it. “The lesson for those producing business events is to know your audience. Know what really resonates with them,” advises Thewlis. “And then be prepared to share your own story and relevant experiences with them in a very candid way. That’s what can create a really strong emotional connection and a really compelling event that can really move, inspire, and motivate an audience.”
The sense of community created is further enhanced with friendship bracelets traded by her fans at her concerts. So are LED wristbands, synchronized with Swift’s music, creating a stadium-wide light show.
Much of Taylor Swift’s magic is in the details. She pays meticulous attention to every lyric and musical note. Similarly, event professionals must be detail-driven. From selecting the appropriate venue to crafting agendas that appeal to attendees, the commitment to precision must be unwavering.
A Logistical Journey
Logistics are at the heart of what event professionals do, and logistics will be integral to getting Swift to the Super Bowl on February 11 to support Kelce. She will have to board a plane directly after her concert in Tokyo on February 10 to make it to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on the 11th.
This critical transfer is so fraught that the U.S. Embassy of Japan weighed in, saying that if Swift departs Tokyo in the evening after her concert, she should comfortably arrive in Las Vegas before the Super Bowl begins.
This isn’t Swift’s first time in Allegiant Stadium. She performed at the stadium for two consecutive nights in March of 2023 in front of 60,000 screaming fans.
If the Chiefs win, there won’t be much time for celebrating as she has to be in Melbourne, Australia, for a February 16 concert.
Transporting her stage between cities is a massive undertaking. Ninety semi-trucks transport her costumes, color-coded microphones, LED screens, speakers, lights, props, and instruments. Last but certainly not least, that illuminated stage had a catwalk almost the length of a Kansas City Chiefs football field.
The old adage, “time is money,” applies to Swift concerts as much as conventions and events. Load-in and load-out must be as efficient as possible, says Brandon Goodman, VP of project management at Encore. Leveraging some of his skills as a former squad leader in the U.S. Army, Goodman has developed efficiencies for big production conferences, such as “kitting” materials together.
In addition, another production tip for efficiency is treating your production partners as team members with on-site meals and comfortable overnight rooms in or near the venue.
“Anything that makes the day easier for the production team means we have more time to accommodate changes and on-site requests with fresh eyes and full stomachs,” Goodman says. “For shows to work like clockwork, communication, collaboration, and trust have to be high. Think about how you’re building a team among teams.”
Concert Film a Hit
Swift knows what goes into orchestrating blockbuster concerts and memorable events. The AMC theater in Los Angeles’ The Grove shopping center was shut down for the premiere of Swift’s concert film, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour. Thirteen screens were used, and Swift went into each theater to personally thank her fans while popcorn was served in custom containers featuring the Eras poster. This kind of creative thinking can be just the start of your own Fearless production.
At the beginning of February, Swift’s management team filed a trademark application for the term “Taylor-Con.” Fans are speculating about whether a fan convention is in the works. The application included using the trademark for “arranging, organizing, conducting and hosting social entertainment events.”
Additionally, audiovisual equipment is an important element in Swift’s Eras Tour and virtually all events. Massive LED video walls are at the heart of Swift’s Eras tour, but today’s AV options mean planners can light up their own productions in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. Plus, with creativity, these options can be cost-effective.
By embracing the “Taylor Swift Effect,” events will transform and “Shake it Off,” adding the necessary elements to keep attendees engaged.
Photo credit: Stephen Mease / Unsplash