Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes are everywhere. Should overexposure be a chief concern?

Is the NFL's dominant duo of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce getting too much air time?

The Kansas City Chiefs tandem have certainly become familiar postseason fixtures earning their way to their fourth Super Bowl in five years. They have also become fixtures in TV commercials – you've likely seen them together in ads for State Farm Insurance or individually in spots for T-Mobile and Subway (Mahomes), and DirecTV and Experian (Kelce).

If you think you are seeing a lot of Mahomes and Kelce in TV ads, you are not imagining things. During the NFL's 2023 regular season, Kelce appeared in more commercials (375) during NFL games than any other celebrity, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing data from ad-measurement firm iSpot.

Mahomes came in second with 341. Jake from State Farm (played by actor Kevin Miles) came in third with 247 ad appearances. Mahomes, Kelce and Chiefs coach Andy Reid have each appeared in State Farm ads with Miles.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, and tight end Travis Kelce celebrate on stage before the annual presentation of the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which goes to the AFC champion.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, and tight end Travis Kelce celebrate on stage before the annual presentation of the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which goes to the AFC champion.

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Amid the pre-Super Bowl hype, news stories have decried how some football fans are "downright sick of" the Chiefs as they have become "The New America's Team." Opinion pieces have complained about "Chiefs fatigue" and that "Being a Travis has never been more annoying."

Could the constant TV presence, a result of their success on the field and off, put them on the verge of overexposure? "No question (with) familiarity breeding contempt," said Nancy Lough, a professor of intercollegiate and professional sports management at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Case in point, she says, is the Dallas Cowboys. The team draws the biggest TV audiences in part because at least some viewers want to see them lose, Lough said. "There is that side of passion for sport, as well, the hater side that loves to hate Kelce (and the Chiefs) because they're winning all the time," she said.

"Personally, if I had a brand and was really trying to break through," Lough said. "I'm not going to pay the high dollar for Mahomes or Kelce because they are already well-known. It's gotten to the point where we know them as 'State Farm.' It's just so in our face all the time."

Exponentially increasing their exposure: Kelce's budding relationship with Taylor Swift, which led to the mega-popular performer attending Chiefs games at Arrowhead Stadium and on the road this season. We already knew Swift has generated billions in economic benefits with her tour. Now, she has drawn Swifties into the NFL fold, at the same time making her and the Chiefs fodder for TMZ, tabloids and social media.

"There is this added layer of spectacle when we see Taylor and Travis's romance playing out," said Jaime Robinson, co-founder and chief creative officer for JOAN Creative in New York City. For the NFL and brands advertising during the Super Bowl, the combination of the Chiefs and Swift "is a little bit like winning a lottery and striking gold at the same time, because you have this extra added viewership," she said.

"That puts the onus on the marketers to really pick it up and try to make their work worth talking about more than, you know, were Taylor and Travis smooching after the game," Robinson said.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) holds the Lamar Hunt trophy as Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce looks on after the team's AFC Championship game 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, on Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) holds the Lamar Hunt trophy as Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce looks on after the team's AFC Championship game 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, on Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore.

Mahomes and Kelce: Advertisers-in-chief

Let's be clear, Mahomes and Kelce were both big stars before the arrival of TNT (Taylor 'n' Travis).

Mahomes won the NFL MVP award in 2018, the year he became the Chiefs starting quarterback. That season, he also became an ambassador for Hunt's ketchup and did a commercial for sandwich chain Goodscents in January 2019.

Since then, he won a second regular season NFL MVP award, two Super Bowl MVP awards and is now the No. 3 quarterback in all-time postseason wins with 14, behind Tom Brady (35) and Joe Montana (16). Off the field, Mahomes has also done ads for many brands including Coors Light, Head & Shoulders, T-Mobile and Subway.

Also off the field, he has invested in the Kansas City Royals, Sporting Kansas City, Formula One team Alpine (as did Kelce), and joined wife Brittany, who played soccer in college, as a part owner of the NWSL's Kansas City Current. (Since Swift has become a regular at Chiefs games, Brittany Mahomes has been getting more exposure for being out and about with Swift, too.)

Taylor Swift, far right, and Brittany Mahomes react to Travis Kelce's touchdown reception from Patrick Mahomes in the Chiefs' divisional playoff win in Buffalo.
Taylor Swift, far right, and Brittany Mahomes react to Travis Kelce's touchdown reception from Patrick Mahomes in the Chiefs' divisional playoff win in Buffalo.

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Mahomes, who is considered a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Kelce have already passed Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski with the most postseason TD connections (16) ever. Many consider Kelce among the best tight ends to ever play and future Hall of Famer, too.

As Kelce emerged as the Chiefs' top receiver in 2014, he also got some attention for untimely unsportsmanlike penalties in his early career with the Chiefs. But that side of his game subsided as he made his way to his third consecutive Pro Bowl in 2017. (He's been named to nine Pro Bowls and has been a first-team All-Pro four times.)

He and his brother Jason, a starting center for 13 years with the Philadelphia Eagles, appeared in Old Spice commercials for the brand's beard grooming products in 2018. Jason Kelce, who has said he plans to retire, is expected to be elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. The brothers also co-host the popular "New Heights" podcast, which has more than 2.1 million subscribers on YouTube alone.

Off the field, the Chiefs tight end appeared in his own reality show "Chasing Kelce," in 2016. But he truly gained momentum with his hosting of "Saturday Night Live" in March 2023, a month after the Chiefs won Super Bowl 57 – he and Swift made cameos on the Oct. 14, 2023 season opening episode, too.

Along the way, Kelce has scored with ads for brands including Campbell Soup – along with brother Jason and mom, Donna – DirecTV, Bud Light, Pfizer and the Experian Smart Money Debit Card. Kelce even has is own line of Travis Kelce's Kitchen food products at Walmart. He appears with Mahomes in their newest Subway commercial, too.

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Pro athletes and commercials: Always on the tube

If you think Mahomes and Kelce are getting too much play, you might want to reflect on the recent past. NFL stars and pro athletes have always been prime time players in commercials:

  • Aaron Rodgers. Before Mahomes and company took over State Farm Insurance ads, Rodgers quarterbacked them. He worked with State Farm for more than a decade, beginning with a series of “discount double check” ads that began airing in 2011, the year Rodgers and the Packers won Super Bowl 45. He and Mahomes began appearing in commercials together in 2019. Rodgers' last State Farm commercial was in 2022.

  • Tom Brady. The 7-time Super Bowl champion – he won his first of six with the New England Patriots in 2002 and his seventh in 2021 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – was a marketing MVP, doing countless TV ads for Beats By Dre, Hertz, Subway, T-Mobile, Under Armour, UGGs, Visa and now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange company FTX, as well as fashion-friendly print ads for companies such as Tag Heuer and Smart Water. He, too, appears in a commercial for BetMGM, along with Wayne Gretzky and Vince Vaughn, scheduled to run during the big game. Oh, Brady also had a high-profile relationship with supermodel Gisele Bündchen. They married in 2009, had two children, and divorced in 2022.

  • Peyton Manning. The quarterback, who retired in 2016, appeared in four Super Bowls, winning one with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 and another with the Denver Broncos in 2016 – did scores of commercials including ones for DirecTV, Mastercard and Nationwide insurance. Manning is still doing commercials and appears in a recent Bud Light commercial with fellow NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith – and is likely in one that will be broadcast during the Super Bowl. For the last three NFL seasons, he and brother Eli Manning have also done the ManningCast, alternate Monday Night Football broadcasts where the comment on the game with guests.

  • Shaquille O'Neal. The four-time NBA champ, who retired in 2011, began making commercials early on – with Buick, Pepsi, and more – and remains an active center of TV attention today doing ads for Epson and Papa John's and appearing as an analyst on TNT's "Inside the NBA."

  • Charles Barkley. The 11-time NBA All-Star, who retired in 2000, began making commercials for Nike, McDonald's and Right Guard and Nike in the 90s, continues to do them for FanDuel, Capitol One and Subway. (He appeared in an iconic McDonald's commercial with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller and others, along with Bugs Bunny.

  • Chris Paul. The 9-time NBA All-Star has been doing commercials for State Farm Insurance since 2012. In his most recent commercial, Paul tells a pair of new homeowners about all of his NBA moves.

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That list doesn't even account for other athlete marketing MVPs such as Joe DiMaggio (Mr. Coffee), Joe Montana (Ford, Diet Pepsi, Skechers), and the crew of the Miller Lite commercials of the '70s and '80s, which included John Madden, Deacon Jones, Billy Martin, Bubba Smith, and Dick Butkus.

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Perhaps the most famous commercial of all time was the "Hey kid, catch!" TV ad for Coca-Cola starring Pittsburgh Steelers "Mean" Joe Greene, which debuted in October 1979 but gained fame for its inclusion in the broadcast of Super Bowl XIV in January 1980. Commercials done with Kelce and Mahomes for Experian and Hunt's, respectively, have paid homage to the Coke ad.

"There was no internet then. That caught on because it was really good," says Jay Russell, who as chief creative officer at Austin, Texas-based advertising agency GSD&M, created Capitol One commercials featuring Taylor Swift.

Things have changed so much since then but even in a busy media landscape, Mahomes and Kelce are overexposed, he said. "I don't think it's a great thing if it pertains to advertising," he said. "They're all in so many things."

Whether it's ads with Mahomes, Kelce or other athletes and celebrities, marketers should try to tell better stories that fit their spokesperson, he says, as opposed to simply relying on their likeability.

An example of "a creative way to use the athlete," Robinson said, was the 1973 Hanes Beautymist pantyhose commercial starring New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, who was Super Bowl MVP in the Jets' victory in 1969.

The camera panned up Namath's body from his pantyhosed feet and he said, "Now, I don’t wear pantyhose, but if Beautymist can make my legs look good, imagine what they’ll do for yours.”

The commercial's "simplicity and confidence … was just 'chef's kiss'," Robinson said.

Right now, Mahomes and Kelce are more worried about the San Francisco 49ers than future TV commercials. But the whole Chiefs-Taylor Swift phenomenon represents a major opportunity for Super Bowl advertisers, Russell said.

"The audience coming just to watch what happens with Taylor Swift coverage is the biggest anomaly in sports," he said. "I'm so curious to see the numbers of Gen Z (viewers) that will have their eyes on this just to see Taylor Swift. How the advertising reacts to that, whoever does that the best is going to win. They are drafting off of this moment that is so big. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Follow Mike Snider on X and Threads: @mikesnider & mikegsnider.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Travis Kelce, Patrick Mahomes: Too much air time with games, TV ads?