When news leaked that the NFL allegedly asked potential halftime show performers to pay to play the Super Bowl, the response was swift. The NFL was criticized by TV talking heads, columnists, and fans alike for having the audacity to make such a request. Why would famous performers pay to do their job? If anything it should be the other way around!
Well, not so fast. The performers have a lot to gain from doing the halftime show. Essentially the performers are marketing their goods or services to a television crowd of over 100 million people. How is the marketing benefit any different than any other NFL/Super Bowl Partner? Companies shell out big bucks for the brand association with the NFL and the Super Bowl. The hope is that association will lead to more sales in the future. Nike pays the NFL because it believes it will sell more product because of its NFL partnership. If the NFL believes that the halftime performers get a similar boost in sales because of their appearance at the Super Bowl, it makes sense that the NFL should benefit. Free promotion is a rarity in the business world.
The argument could be made that the most of these acts are heavily promoted by their labels and extremely commercialized. Research is done to look at trends of what sells, and what will flop. This doesn’t sound much different than product testing and market research. Gatorade isn’t saying it should get free promotion because its Gatorade shower is an iconic image the company provides to the game. Musical artists even get travel and production costs covered for their performance.
And if you simply look at the product (tour ticket and downloads), the performer usually receives an uptick in sales after their Super Bowl performance. This doesn’t even take into account the millions of dollars brands pay to TV partners of the NFL just to get 30 seconds of commercial airtime. The TV partners pay heftily for the right to televise the game with the goal of creating as much advertising revenue as possible. Everyone in the value chain pays except the halftime performer. According to Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports, the Bruno Mars/Red Hot Chili Peppers halftime show lasted 12 minutes. That amount of commercial time is valued at as much as $100 million.
The NFL’s only real crime was going against precedent and perpetuating the perception in some circles that the league is tone-deaf and arrogant. It may have been a bad PR move, but that doesn’t mean it was wrong. It actually makes sense.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.