January’s over, and the biggest TV event of the year is almost here again. The NFL may be the authority on professional football, but what it really knows how to do is make money. It’s the G.O.A.T. among U.S. sports leagues, raking in over $14 billion USD a year on average — and it wants to hike that to over $25 billion USD by 2027. Though viewership has been in a decline the last few years, the Super Bowl is still the most-watched television event of the year in most years, drawing a little under 100 million viewers in 2019.
Everything about the big game is designed to be a spectacle, and that goes especially for the halftime show. Since the ’90s, the NFL has booked the world’s biggest superstars to perform. For the upcoming Super Bowl LIV, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez will headline together. So how much money will be coming out of the NFL’s deep pockets for the two singers?
Super Bowl performers get expenses and production costs covered, but Shakira and Lopez won’t receive payment for the show itself. The performances usually last around 13 minutes, but it’s often a physically demanding 13 minutes of incredible flying feats or dance formations. That’s right — Shakira and Jennifer Lopez are working for exposure.
Online communities calling out and shaming people who try to pay in exposure have become popular recently. But the thing is, when it comes to the Super Bowl’s halftime show, exposure really does pay. After Lady Gaga headlined in 2017, her total album sales reportedly saw a near 2000% jump, with her newest album, Joanne, seeing a 1552% increase.
The NFL sees the halftime show as free promo — an ad for superstars who already have money (CelebrityNetWorth estimates that Shakira is worth $300 million USD and Lopez $400 million USD). So the halftime show might be a steal from the performers’ perspective: a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl cost as much as $5.6 million USD this year. Based on this math, the rumour that it wanted to start charging entertainers to perform makes a certain kind of sense. This year, the NFL even plans to release the halftime show as a “live visual album” on streaming platforms.
But are the potential costs of performing in the halftime show worth the boost in album sales? After all, despite proof of massive sales increases after performing at the Super Bowl, both Rihanna and Cardi B turned down the gig, citing the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick as the reason. Pink revealed during an interview with Billboard that the idea of performing in the halftime show doesn’t appeal to her, not only because she wants to show solidarity with Kaepernick, but also because appearing centre stage at such a major event brings too much negativity on social media. “Everybody that does it gets so persecuted,” she told Billboard.
The NFL is clearly aware of the anger directed at it for its treatment of Kaepernick over his national anthem protests, and it is working to repair its public image. Last year, Jay-Z, a Kaepernick supporter who claims in the song Apeshit that he once turned down the Super Bowl, became the NFL’s Live Music Entertainment Strategist. The move was intended to signal the league’s commitment to social justice, but there are a lot of skeptics. We don’t have a list of all the artists Jay-Z considered for this year’s halftime show, but we know that Gloria Estefan was one of them. She turned down the opportunity, saying she had already hosted twice before, and that it was “stressful.”
In September 2019, Shakira (who signed to Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation in 2012) and Lopez were announced, and though we don’t know exactly what the performance will entail, the two promised that it would have an empowering message. Super Bowl LIV will be the first time two Latina women are headlining the halftime show. Whether the combined impact of Jay-Z, Shakira, and Lopez will convince people that the NFL is serious about becoming more conscious of race in America remains to be seen. Perhaps notably, proceeds from the national anthem and America the Beautiful performances will be donated to the NFL’s new Inspire Change initiative, which aims to advance education, police and community relations, and criminal justice reform.
It’s unclear how much the NFL is compensating Jay-Z for his consulting. The league will continue to pay its celebrity performers with the pull of the 100 million people who will watch them live. But now, with the NFL so swamped by controversy, that exposure could come with costs.