Will the Super Bowl Halftime Show Become the Ultimate in Pay to Play?

By: Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

In a substantial change in how the NFL has in the past secured music artists for halftime performances at the Super Bowl, performers may now be asked to pay for the privilege of playing to the year’s biggest prime-time broadcast audience, the Wall Street Journal reported. Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the paper reported that “at least some” of the three artist candidates for the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show — reportedly Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Coldplay — were asked to “contribute a portion of their post-Super Bowl tour income to the league, or… make some other type of financial contribution,” in exchange for what has become the ultimate perennial showcase for music talent.
Bruno Mars says a Super Bowl performance is something you don’t say no to. But is it something the artist should pay for?

Bruno Mars says a Super Bowl performance is something you don’t say no to. But is it something the artist should pay for?

A Super Bowl halftime appearance does tend to benefit the artists who perform. Bruno Mars’ set halfway through the 2014 Super Bowl at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey on Feb. 1 resulted in sales of the entertainer’s current album, “Unorthodox Jukebox,” of 40,000 copies, an increase of 164 percent over the 15,000 it sold the previous week before the event, according to music trade Billboard. Some of those buyers were undoubtedly among the record 115 million people who tuned in to watch his 12-minute performance.

The league has neither confirmed nor denied the report. In response to questions from the paper, NFL spokesperson Joanna Hunter stated that the league’s contracts with performers were confidential and that its only goal was “to put on the best possible show.”

No Pay Anyway

Bridgestone Super Bowl XLVI Halftime ShowHistorically, halftime performers are not compensated for their Super Bowl shows, although the league has in some cases paid some of the artists’ expenses associated with the performances, and pays for the additional audio and other production support that venues require for live-music concerts, such as supplemental PA systems. For Bruno Mars’ and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ halftime show in February, ATK Audiotek, which has provided on-field sound for the Super Bowl for the last 19 years, rolled out a main system comprised of 66 JBL VT4889 speaker enclosures and 32 VT4880A subwoofers. These were in addition to the huge distributed-audio system in side the stadium that’s made of 1,050 JBL speakers.

But music artists are happy to take a loss on a show like this, even at a time when touring revenue is being relied on to replace income from recorded music as CD sales have plummeted over 50 percent in the last decade and even download sales have turned downward in the last two years. In 2012, Madonna, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., all of whom performed at that year’s halftime show, scheduled drops of new records around the show. Madonna further used the event to promote the film W.E., which the singer produced and directed and that opened in the U.S. that same week, and she announced dates for an upcoming world tour right after the game.

Few music artists can leverage publicity as well as the Material Girl, but if the report of candidates for the Super Bowl halftime show being asked to pay for their participation in the event turns out to be the case, it would represent the NFL’s assertion that the promotional value to artists is tangible and fungible, and that it’s been bearing the estimated $8 to $10 million cost of producing the halftime show by itself and its various sponsors (Pepsi this year) long enough. It’s not the first time the league has made the contention; speaking to Time magazine just before the 2013 Super Bowl event, NFL Director of Programming Lawrence Randall said, “We’re putting someone up there for 12 and a half minutes in front of the largest audience that any television program garners in the United States. It’s a pretty good deal. It’s the famous win-win for both parties.”

The Context

The issue arises at a time when the value of broadcast promotion like this is back on the front burner legislatively. There has been a running debate for decades that radio stations that play music should pay broadcast royalties to the artists and musicians who perform on these recordings, just as they already pay the composers and publishers of those songs. The House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property has been holding hearings on that topic as part of a broader agenda of renovating the country’s tangled copyright laws.

Musician advocates such as The Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammy Awards Show, point to Europe where terrestrial radio has always paid performers as well as composers. (Internet radio pays both in the US. And abroad, as well.)

Broadcasters, however, assert that the promotional value of having their music played for free hundreds or thousands of times a day is enormous. Even in the Internet era, terrestrial radio remains the single largest source for music discovery. As an extension of that concept, the Super Bowl is the World Cup of music.

So the value of the Super Bowl’s halftime show is clear for performers, and the NFL may want them to also share some of its costs. On the other hand, at $4 million-plus for a 30-second commercial spot on the show, the Super Bowl is hugely profitable. The question becomes, will performers find the economics of the Super Bowl compelling enough to not only pay their own expenses but also make a “contribution” towards the upkeep of the show? As Bruno Mars told Forbes earlier this year, “It’s the biggest stage ever. It’s something you’re not gonna say no to.”