Super Bowl Headliners Don't Make Jack

But the organizers make so much money off them.
Super Bowl Headliners Don't Make Jack

The headliners at the Super Bowl Halftime Show—people like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Maroon 5 in recent years—are among the biggest music stars we have. Some of them easily make $1 million every time they put on a concert. So how much do they get paid for what may be the most viewed performance of their lives? Nothing. The NFL pays them in exposure. Their only compensation is that they get to promote their music by performing it.

Sorry, that’s not quite true, though it almost is. Under union rules, the artists are not allowed to perform these concerts for free. So the NFL pays them union scale, the minimum day rate they can legally pay any union member. This is $1,030 for the day, which somehow feels even worse than paying nothing.

Yes, when Beyoncé performed at the Super Bowl for 111 million viewers, they paid her $1,030. A bit less than that, actually, as she performed almost a decade ago, and the rate must have been less then. You can almost picture commissioner Roger Goodell coming up with the money by digging a handful of crumpled bills out of his pocket. 

In fact, sometimes, the concert costs the performer. The NFL officially covers all related costs, including travel expenses, tech, and paying dancers (or providing their own dancers, sometimes labeling them volunteers and paying them nothing). And yet the NFL package may not meet the artist’s expectations. In 2021, The Weeknd spent $7 million above what the NFL was spending, to beef up production value. 

It makes sense, claims the NFL. Their performance gives them a good 15 minutes to promote their music for free, and Super Bowl ad time is otherwise the most expensive ad time in existence. However, that argument makes less and less sense as artists make less and less money through record sales. Yes, you can point to streaming numbers jumping right after a halftime show, but for some artists, streams are themselves little more than ads for their concerts, which is where they make their real money. 

Performers at the Super Bowl don’t just receive massive audiences, they create massive audiences. If no one performed during halftime, everyone would schedule their meal for right then instead of having their food ready for them in front of the TV (this is, of course, why the NFL organizes a halftime show at all). The performance isn’t an ad: The Super Bowl actually creates ads to promote the halftime show, to bring in viewers who will then watch the actual ads.  

Each 30-second spot at the Super Bowl brings in $7 million for the organizers (coincidentally the amount The Weeknd spent on his show). The artist makes the same amount from their performance as the organizers make from 4 milliseconds of airing commercials. 

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Top image: NBC

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