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The Super Bowl Halftime Show Has Been a Historic Roller Coaster for the League

In two Sunday’s people all over the United States and the world for that matter will find themselves at a Super Bowl party, and there’s one thing that a lot of ‘fringe’ watchers of the biggest game every year on planet earth do keep their eyes on – that’s the musical act or band which plays the huge show at halftime.

Over the years the NFL has been able to march out some of the greatest of all-time, including stars like Michael Jackson, Prince (oddly enough in the rain in Miami) and Lady Gaga, but this season the NFL has a pretty big issue on their hands, and that’s drawing a big name for the big game in Atlanta in a couple weeks.

Let’s go in time to Super Bowl XXVI in January of 1992 in Minnesota, as the Redskins were taking apart the Buffalo Bills enroute to their third Super Bowl victory for the franchise.

Gloria Estefan is on stage, performing the finale of a show that features dancers, a marching band and two former Olympic champion skaters, a great performance – but one that fans didn’t care much about nor talked about the next day.

At the same time, people across America are having chats, making runs for food, making runs for beer, or – disastrously for Super Bowl host broadcaster CBS – changing the channel over to the upstart FOX Network.

That day Fox at halftime took away some 17 million Super Bowl Halftime viewers as they ran a one-off live episode of sketch comedy show In Living Color, a huge sketch comedy show at the time with the likes of Jim Carrey, who would go on to be a huge movie star with movies like ‘Liar, Liar’ and ‘The Truman Show’.

It was a disaster for the NFL, the Super Bowl’s organizers, who, as a result, aggressively went after the biggest pop star in the entire world – the ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson, in a bid to enhance ratings and make the show more appealing to all involved.

Their plan would wind up working for the next 20 years.

The King of Pop’s 1993 halftime show helped to attract a television audience of 91 million viewers – the second-largest in Super Bowl history at the time and 12 million more than the previous year – and ratings went through the roof year after year.

Staging concert-style shows with mainstream artists from all over the world has worked for both the organizers and performers ever since, with the artists and the NFL enjoying great success for their careers.

The Super Bowl’s United States television audience has never fallen back below 83 million viewers, while artists who have done it enjoy a boost to both their profile, their sales, and their careers.

The halftime show has grown to where that it is discussed almost as much as the game itself, with online betting odds available to bet on what the first song will be, how many changes of costumes will take place, and what guests will appear with the headliner during the show.

In the past couple of years, however, the organizers have faced a new problem: attracting the world’s biggest singers and stars to the Super Bowl stage.

The reason why is complicated, but it can be traced back to the eventual exit of former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who protested the national anthem at the start of games in the preseason of 2016 season and during the season, and has been a huge source of controversy ever since, never getting back into the league and basically blackballed.

Jay-Z told the NFL ‘uh no thanks,’ as he wanted to stay on the side of Kaepernick, while several other mainstream artists rejected offers to perform at the show on February 3rd, reports being Rihanna, Pink and Cardi B.

The organizers settled on pop group Maroon 5 to be the headliner for this year’s biggest game, with guest appearances from Travis Scott and OutKast member Big Boi – Yawn.

Scott demanded a whopping $500,000 donation for charity Dream Corps to appear, and let’s face it, overall it’s just not a huge card of singers for the game.

For the first time in more than 25 years, the show, previously considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, is now viewed by some artists as not worth the headache or backlash by music and NFL fans.

It’s hard to believe, given how successful the blueprint created by Jackson’s huge 1993 performance has been, that the NFL can’t get this right, and it looks like it won’t be corrected this February.

His album, Dangerous, flew up 90 sport in the Billboard charts right after the show, and his 90-minute conversation with Oprah Winfrey just over a week later remains the highest-rated television interview of all time.

Most artists have gotten huge benefits from performing at the Super Bowl, and it would be worth their while to think twice about it before saying no.

Madonna saw sales of her back catalogue increase by 410 percent after her appearance in 2012, not too bad for 12 minutes of singing on the world’s biggest stage.

In 2018, Lady Gaga’s album and single sales rose by over 1,000 per cent on the day of her very well received Super Bowl LI halftime show, with the buzz from that performance helping 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.

Janet Jackson is the biggest example of those, with ‘Nipplegate’ being the most infamous moment in Super Bowl history in Houston, Texas back in 2004.

While Justin Timberlake was just as responsible for the wardrobe malfunction, Jackson took the brunt of the blame, and by some has never recovered to the level she was at.

Her music and videos were taken off all Viacom properties, including both CBS and MTV, and her album, while critically acclaimed, did not do well commercially as fans didn’t want any part of it after the incident.

M.I.A. also saw her profile drop down after she gave the cameras the middle finger at Super Bowl XLVI and was then sued for 16 million by the league, later settling out of court for a much lesser fine.

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

There’s no doubt that the NFL has benefitted just as much from the switch to concert-style performances with huge artists.

Ratings now typically rise at halftime as viewers tune in to watch the mega event, and the last nine Super Bowls have all seen American television audiences of 100 million and above, a solid number for the league.

A 30-second Super Bowl commercial spot, which cost $850,000 back in 1992, is now worth over five million, an increase of three and a half million accounting for inflation.

It’s clear, however, that the Kaepernick situation has hurt the NFL, and has turned the fan base off on a number of levels.

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 dipped a total of nine percent from 2017, when Lady Gaga performed in Houston, Texas, and the overall market share dropped below 69 percent for the first time in eight years, a big concern.

The pressure is on for the Super Bowl in Atlanta this February after the rejections from several huge names have become so public, which isn’t a shock based on the NFL backlash due to the tensions throughout the league with fans and organizations.

A complete overhaul of the halftime show is not going to happen, but another year of ratings falling could force the league to change what they do in terms of their strategy – one that has been incredibly successful for close to the last three decades.

Make sure you check out this infographic from Betway, which shows the rise and fall of the Super Bowl halftime show over the years.


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