A slew of celebrities has declined to perform at NFL Super Bowl halftime shows in recent years. Some, like Adele, just didn’t feel they were the right fit for the event.
"First of all, I'm not doing the Super Bowl," the English singer-songwriter said in 2016. “I mean, that show is not about music. I can't dance or anything like that. They were very kind, they did ask me, but I did say no." (The NFL denied making an offer to Adele.)
Others (allegedly) refused offers to perform to show solidarity with former quarterback Colin Kaepernick. And then there were those who reportedly grumbled about not getting paid to perform.
Regarding the latter, the NFL has refused to budge.
“We do not pay the artists,” explained NFL spokesperson Joanna Hunter in 2016. “We cover expenses and production costs.”
No Dough, No Show?
The fact that artists don’t get paid surprises many people. We’re used to seeing performers like Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, and Coldplay command millions of dollars for their performances.
However, the NFL’s unique arrangement with performers does make sense from an economic perspective.
Even if the NFL is not cutting them a check, artists, without exception, have seen a spike in record sales following their Super Bowl halftime performances.
For one, the NFL’s agreement to cover all production costs is not trivial. Reports state these costs can exceed $10 million. Even if that figure is exaggerated, we’re still talking about a sizeable cost.
Second, let’s not forget that companies are lining up to shell out $5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial. Why? Because there’s value in having your product seen by tens of millions of viewers. Artists, who generally perform between 12 and 15 minutes at halftime shows, receive about $24 million to $30 million worth of exposure, assuming the same rate of value as companies paying for commercial time.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, artists still have direct financial incentives to perform. Even if the NFL is not cutting them a check, artists, without exception, have seen a spike in record sales following their Super Bowl halftime performances.
For example, Maroon 5 saw a 488 percent surge in record sales following the band’s 2019 performance. Missy Elliott saw a 282 percent increase following her 2015 performance. For Bruno Mars in 2014, it was a 164 percent jump. In 2013, Beyoncé’s online sales jumped 230 percent while the sales of Destiny’s Child catapulted by 600 percent.
The fact that the NFL isn’t writing checks to performers isn’t evidence of an unfair exchange.
Record sales aren’t the only metric to measure the value of performing, of course. There are the television appearances that follow, the millions of new social media followers, and numerous other marketing benefits, some of which aren’t quantifiable.
One of Katy Perry’s managers, for example, said the Super Bowl is what took the pop star to a new level.
"It took her from being a star to the stratosphere," manager Cobb Jensen said in 2015.
Economics and Free Exchange
The arrangement between the NFL and artists is unusual, but the one thing we do know is it’s a mutually beneficial trade.
The fact that the NFL isn’t writing checks to performers isn’t evidence of an unfair exchange. In fact, the presence of the exchange itself is proof to the contrary.
There are many things economists disagree on, but one fundamental principle universally shared is that a voluntary exchange between two or more parties is beneficial to all involved.
Some might begrudge the NFL’s powerful bargaining position, but even that is not as strong as it might appear.
As Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman put it, “both parties to an economic transaction benefit from it, provided the transaction is bi-laterally voluntary and informed.”
Some might begrudge the NFL’s powerful bargaining position, but even that is not as strong as it might appear. For one, as noted, numerous artists have declined to perform at the Super Bowl in recent years.
Additionally, the NFL appears to have overestimated the value of its platform. Just a few years ago, the league floated the idea of making artists pay to perform at the Super Bowl. That did not sit well with artists.
“I put my foot down very early in the courtship,” Katy Perry told The Associated Press in 2015 after her Super Bowl halftime performance. “I said, ‘Look guys, here’s where I draw a line in the sand.’ I want to be invited on my own merits and not with some fine print.”
Whether it was the idea of losing cold cash or, as Perry suggests, an infringement on artistic integrity, these exchanges proved a no-go with artists, and the NFL soon scrapped efforts to try to get performers to pony up to play.
Perhaps the NFL will try to sell halftime shows again in the future. Perhaps not. Regardless, what we know is that the halftime show benefits both the NFL and the artists who perform.
As a wise economist once said, “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”