Why Usher Won’t Get Paid For The Super Bowl Halftime Show

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It’s been 12 years since Usher descended from the sky to perform his hit “OMG” as a special guest during the Super Bowl XLV halftime show in Arlington, Texas—a two-minute routine that culminated with him leaping over will.i.am’s head and landing in a split. “Since that day, I think, I had it in my mind that I wanted to go back to the stage,” he said recently on Good Morning America.

The 45-year-old R&B star found out he would be headlining this year’s show on a phone call with Jay-Z, whose Roc Nation has served as the Live Music Entertainment Strategists for the NFL since 2019. “It’s your magic moment,” Usher recalls the hip-hop billionaire telling him, relaying the story in an interview with Extra. “This is it. This is your Michael moment.”

Since Roc Nation became part of the selection process, halftime acts have become more diverse, more current, and more connected to the host city in which the game is played. Super Bowl LVIII’s location, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, certainly played a factor in Usher’s selection this year. He has become among the most popular acts in Sin City over the past two years, beginning with a sold-out residency at The Colosseum At Caesars Palace in 2021 followed by an even bigger show at Park MGM, “My Way,” which extended its run twice to accommodate overwhelming demand for the R&B star’s singing, dancing, and roller-skating spectacle.

“The Vegas residency became this viral sensation, because everyone wants to see who he’s serenading the night of the show,” says Naima Cochrane, a former marketing executive at Columbia and Epic Records and now an assistant arts professor at NYU. “He’s been the king of Vegas in a way nobody has since like Sammy Davis Jr.”

Usher’s original 14-show run at Caesars grossed more than $12.9 million in ticket sales (he eventually added six more shows), and as of last September, Billboard reported that the “My Way” residency had sold 290,000 tickets, grossing $64 million across 59 shows.

Yet for the Super Bowl gig on February 11, Usher won’t be paid anything.

As has been the custom for halftime headliners for many years, he will perform the 13-minute set for free. While the NFL and Apple Music cover the cost of the production, which can stretch to more than $10 million, some artists in recent iterations of the show have even chosen to invest their own money—The Weeknd reportedly spent $7 million in 2021 for to stage his performance and Dr. Dre spent the same amount the following year, to ensure the show fits his vision. Usher’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The arrangement pays off in other ways for Super Bowl talent. Last year’s game garnered 115 million viewers, according to Nielsen, making it one of the most watched telecasts in U.S. history. The potential marketing value of a halftime performance is astronomical, considering the going rate for a single 30-second commercial during this year’s telecast is around $7 million.

Rihanna, last year’s halftime performer, saw her digital song sales increase by 390%, according to Luminate, in line with spikes every halftime artist in the past decade has received. The billionaire pop singer also snuck in a mid-show plug for her Fenty Beauty brand, which led to more than $44 million in earned media. Plus, she pulled off the most epic pregnancy announcement in recent pop culture history.

Similarly, Usher is using his Super Bowl performance to jump start a robust plan for 2024, beginning with releasing a new album on the day of the game—“Coming Home” is his ninth studio album and first since 2016. He also has licensing agreements for a fragrance line and cognac brand, Rémy Martin, which could see meaningful sales bumps following the big game.

“There is no bigger moment of impact,” Cochrane says. “It would be ridiculous not to have a call to action that folks can take immediately following, like as soon as he says goodnight there needs to be a button somebody can push to spend some money to do something for him.”

Despite the rewards that come with performing at halftime, what makes this year’s Super Bowl unique is that the most talked-about recording artist of the year will not be on the 50-yard line on Sunday night—though she is expected to be up in the luxury box. The mere potential to have Taylor Swift in attendance for the game, cheering on her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, has been enough to convince health and beauty brands to buy valuable commercial time on the broadcast. Dove, for instance, is doing its first Super Bowl commercial in 18 years, and e.l.f. Cosmetics is doing its first ever.

Perhaps taking a page out of Swift’s playbook, Usher has promised to walk fans through an Eras-style setlist of his 30-year music catalog. He has hinted that he will be adapting elements of his Vegas residency show, perhaps even the roller-skating, into his performance. And while performing for a crowd of 65,000 in an NFL stadium is drastically different than 5,000 in a theater, Usher recently told Vogue that the show will feel like a personal serenade to everyone watching. “I’m literally speaking to every woman,” he said, “I want to make it feel like that.”

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