At this Sunday’s Super Bowl, the evening’s biggest stars arguably won’t be on the field, but in the stands.
While Taylor Swift — by some measures the most famous person on the planet as well as girlfriend to Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce — is the most obvious example, she’s hardly alone. Brittany Mahomes, wife of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, has racked up nearly 2 million followers on Instagram; former Miss Universe Olivia Culpo is engaged to 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey and Allison Kucharczyk, the wife of defensive end Isaac Rochell, is a TikTok star with over 3 million followers.
That’s just American football WAGs — an acronym for wives and girlfriends, usually referring to the partners of professional athletes — whose other halves are playing in the Super Bowl. Other notable WAGs include Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, whose husband Jonathan Owens is on the Green Bay Packers and TikTok mega influencer Alix Earle is dating Dolphins receiver Braxton Berrios.
The phenomenon extends beyond football: Tennis, in particular, has seen a WAG-aissance in recent years, with women like Morgan Riddle (girlfriend of top-ranked American male Taylor Fritz), Ayan Broomfield (girlfriend of Francis Tiafoe and a former collegiate tennis player herself) and Paige Lorenze (girlfriend of American tennis player Tommy Paul) are all content creators with hundreds of thousands of followers across platforms. There, they give followers a behind-the-scenes look at the non-stop professional tennis tour, which takes them everywhere from Melbourne to Wimbledon, and of course, share plenty of details on their match day ensembles.
WAGs have long been a cultural force, but in the past, their public image has mostly been out of their hands, the product of photographs in the stands and tabloid chatter. But today, many double as influencers, capitalising on interest in pulling back the curtain on what it really means to be a WAG.
“[These women] were once put into a box as the partners of athletes, but they’ve broken out and are able to connect with the common fan and consumer, which wasn’t possible prior to the influencer age,” said Emily Brown, senior manager of strategy at influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy.
The worlds of sport and fashion have become increasingly linked — look at Hugo Boss’s NFL partnership and LVMH’s Olympics coming sponsorship. And this generation of WAGs, with a public profile and accomplishments that go far beyond their romantic relationships, have emerged as a connective tissue between the two industries. In showcasing the lifestyle elements of sports to a new audiences, these women are making games and matches as much a fashion event as they are a sporting one — and boosting interest in the sports they’re associated with. And with that, they’re attracting major brand partnerships, from the likes of Prada, Ralph Lauren and Uniqlo.
“The [tennis] Grand Slams now are like a fashion show,” said Broomfield. “It’s clicked for brands that if they can’t close dress the players on court, they can dress the girls in the box.”
The Fabulous Life of WAGs
The WAG fascination goes back decades. The aughts were a high point for the phenomenon with the superstar pop singer and athlete pairing of David and Victoria Beckham. Women like Ayesha Curry, wife of Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry, charted a playbook for turning WAG status into a career, and WAGs like Savannah James, wife of NBA icon LeBron James, sits front row at Paris Couture Week. And in 2019, the UK’s Wagatha Christie scandal — a tale of gossip and WAG in-fighting between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, the wives of two UK footballers — gripped the public, eventually leading to a libel case in 2022.
The public obsession can be linked to several factors — the connection to professional sports, a seemingly-glamorous lifestyle, the “power couple” factor and more.
“In order for something to go viral, it has to be controversial, enviable, or relatable. If you can hit all three, that’s the type of video that you get millions of views on,” said Riddle. “Being a WAG encompasses all of those things.”
They’re aspirational, but social media makes them approachable, said Mae Karwowski, the founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Obviously. They make videos discussing the difficulties of life on the road and share their skincare routines. They talk about their relationship, and supporting their partner through wins and losses.
Social media has also provided a path to a lucrative — and perhaps most importantly, flexible — career when in previous years, the logistical realities of being a WAG may have cut off those opportunities. Living with a schedule dictated by a professional sports organisation, with frequent travel and uncertainty around what city you’ll be in from week to week (or where you can make your home base), makes holding down a traditional job difficult. Riddle, for example, spent her first year accompanying Fritz on the tennis tour working a 9-to-5 job remotely — dealing with constantly changing time zones led her to taking work calls in the middle of the night or missing important matches for meetings.
“We sit in the box and sometimes it pans to us, but that’s not how you create a business out of this,” said Lorenze. “There’s a difference between being known and then making it into a business.”
Creating content is a seamless fit for a WAG, particularly now that brands are taking notice of their power. Broomfield said that in the past two years, more brands have started dressing tennis WAGs for matches, particularly grand slams — some, she said, are even paid by the brands to wear their wares. Mahomes starred in a Skims holiday campaign, and Riddle is attending the Super Bowl this weekend as a guest of Louis Vuitton.
“It’s really priceless when you can be in the pop culture zeitgeist, because people come and find your business organically,” said Jasmine Okougbo, manager of marketing, product and partnerships at Hidden Crown Hair Extensions, who did Mahomes’ hair for the Super Bowl in 2023 and will again this year.
Changing the Face of Sports
Coverage of WAGs has always been tinged with misogyny, and even amid the current resurgence, that’s still the case. Just look at the number of angry NFL fans on social media who fume every time Swift flashes on the screen.
But the fact of the matter is that WAGs are bringing a new audience to the sports they’re associated with. The NFL has seen its highest levels of female viewership since it started tracking data, according to NBC Sports, with a 53 percent spike in teenage female viewers. Women in particular are a demographic that the NFL is trying to reach, said Xaimara Coss, the NFL’s director, consumer products and retail marketing.
“I’ve had so many girls come up to me at tournaments saying ‘I would never be here if I didn’t watch your videos,’ or ‘I’m dressing up for Australian Open this year, your content made me want to dress up for it,’” Riddle said.
The leagues themselves are starting to recognise their power. Kristin Juszczyk, a clothing designer who is married to 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, recently nabbed a licensing deal with NFL Fashion — her jersey puffer jackets went viral after Swift and Mahomes wore them to a Chief game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Christmas Day.
Last summer, Wimbledon tapped Riddle to host a web series called “Wimbledon Threads” that spotlighted attendee fashion. Lorenze said she’s planning to work with a number of the tournaments this year in an official capacity.
“These women are powerful,” said Kyle Smith, NFL Fashion content strategist. “It would be bad business for us not to engage with that and leverage them to expand our reach.”