The rise and fall of the Super Bowl halftime show

The Super Bowl halftime show has had some huge performances over the years that includes the likes of Michael Jackson, Prince and Lady Gaga, but for the first time since 1993, the Super Bowl halftime show has a booking problem.

It is halftime at Super Bowl XXVI on 26 January 1992 and Cuban-American singer, songwriter and actress Gloria Estefan will be performing the finale of a show that features dancers, a marching band and two former Olympic champion skaters.

At the same time, people across America are taking toilet breaks, making beer runs, or – disastrously for Super Bowl host broadcaster CBS – changing the channel, with approximately 17 million viewers ditching the halftime show for a one-off live episode of sketch comedy show In Living Colour on rival network Fox.

It was a a big problem for Super Bowl organizers at the time, who, as a result, aggressively recruited the biggest pop star in the world, Michael Jackson, in a bid to enhance ratings.

Their plan worked.

The King of Pop’s 1993 appearance at the Super Bowl garnered a viewership of 91 million viewers – the second-largest in Super Bowl history at the time. It was also 12 million more viewers than the year before – and ratings actually increased between the first and second for the first time ever.

Staging concert-style shows with global mainstream artists has worked for both the organizers and performers ever since.

The Super Bowl’s television audience in the United States has never dipped back below 83 million, while artists who have performed the show have enjoyed a boost to both their profile and their album sales. The halftime show has grown to the point that it is discussed almost as much as the game itself, with online betting markets like Betway allowing patrons to bet on the first song, costume changes and any guest appearances.

In the past couple of years, however, the organizers have faced a new problem: attracting the superstars.

The reason for this complication can be traced back to the continued exile of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who protested racial injustice by kneeling for the national anthem at the start of games throughout the 2016 season.

Because of this, artists like Jay-Z have turned down the chance to appear in 2018 in solidarity with Kaepernick, while several mainstream artists rejected offers to perform at the 2019 show as well. Artists including Rihanna, Pink and Cardi B.

The Super Bowl 2019 organizers have now settled on rock band Maroon 5 to headline this year’s show, with guest appearances from Travis Scott – who requested a $500,000 donation for charity Dream Corps to appear – and OutKast member Big Boi.

It is clear, that for the first time in more than 25 years, the show – previously considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for artists – is viewed by some as not worth their while.

This is hard to imagine, given how successful the blueprint created by Jackson’s 1993 performance has been.

His album, Dangerous, rose 90 places in the Billboard charts immediately after the show, and his 90-minute conversation with Oprah Winfrey nine days later remains the highest-rated television interview of all time.

It is obvious that most artists will benefit from performing at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. Madonna, for example, saw sales of her back catalogue increase by 410% after her appearance at the show in 2012.

In 2018, Lady Gaga’s album and single sales rose by over 1,000% on the day of her acclaimed Super Bowl LI halftime show. That performance helped her secure a two-year residency in Las Vegas later that year.

To some artists, however, the halftime show hasn’t been quite so kind.

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Janet Jackson is the most notable of those. ‘Nipplegate’ is probably one of the biggest mishaps in entertainment history, not just the Super Bowl.

Even though Justin Timberlake and the wardrobe department were responsible for the wardrobe malfunction, Jackson took most of the blame. Her music and videos were removed from all Viacom properties – including CBS and MTV – and her album, while critically acclaimed, underperformed commercially.

M.I.A. was another artist who watched her profile dip after she gave the camera the middle finger at Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 and she was subsequently sued for $16m by the NFL, a suit that was later settled out of court.

It is a testament to the show’s pull, however, that artists continued – up until recently, at least – to jump at the chance to perform.

There’s no doubt that the NFL benefits as much from the performances.

Ratings rise at the halftime as viewers tune in to watch the show. The last nine Super Bowls have all seen American television audiences of over 100 million viewers.

To purchase a 30-second Super Bowl commercial spot one can expect to pay $850,000 back in 1992and as much as $5m today, an increase of $3.5m after accounting for inflation.

It is clear, however, that the Kaepernick situation has hurt the NFL in general.

Last year’s Super Bowl – in which Timberlake’s halftime show performance featured a tone-deaf posthumous duet with Prince – attracted the smallest television audience since 2009.

Ratings fell nine per cent from 2017, when Lady Gaga performed, and market share dropped below 69 per cent for the first time in eight years.

For that reason, the pressure is on for this February’s Super Bowl in Atlanta after the rejections from several big names have become so public.

For us to see a complete revamp of the halftime show is very unlikely, but another year of dwindling ratings could force the NFL to change their strategy that has been incredibly successful for the past 25 years.



About Joel Levy 2255 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography