With NFL players pulling in an average salary of $2.7 million per year, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the musical superstars who lend their talents to the most important game of the year also earn millions of dollars—but you’d be wrong.
The surprising truth is that halftime performers aren’t paid to perform at the Super Bowl. Per league policy, the NFL covers all costs related to the production of the halftime show, but the performers don’t take home a paycheck (although the NFL foots the bill for their travel expenses). The cost of production, even for just a thirteen-minute segment, can be sky high, with the 2020 performance by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira reportedly costing the NFL approximately $13 million. That figure finances the paychecks of up to 3,000 staffers involved in the production, as well as complicated technical elements of the performance, like a collapsible, 38-part stage, or the massive audio equipment rolled in on 18 carts. Don’t even get us started on the cost of awe-inspiring spectacles, like Katy Perry riding into the stadium on a mechanical golden lion, or Lady Gaga parachuting into her performance from the roof.
So what’s in it for performers? Something familiar to freelance writers everywhere: exposure. Performing on one of the world’s biggest, most televised stages (almost 100 million viewers tuned into last year’s game) can convert into real financial gain in the form of increased music sales. When Justin Timberlake performed in 2018, his music sales rose 534% that same day; as for Lady Gaga, sales of her digital catalog spiked 1000% following her 2017 performance.
That said, accepting the gig isn’t the guaranteed public relations booster it once was. As the NFL continues to discourage players from protesting racial inequality, artists like Rihanna and Cardi B have turned down the gig in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, while those who accepted it, like Maroon 5, have come into the crosshairs of petitions demanding they bow out to boycott the NFL.
Is it time for halftime show performers to stop working for free and unionize? We’ll let you be the judge.
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