The Real Reason The Super Bowl Halftime Show Is So Expensive

The Super Bowl half-time show's ginormous price tag isn't about paying the artists. They do it for free. Kind of. After Justin Timberlake's 2018 half time show, sales of his music rose 543 percent, the same day (via CNBC). Lady Gaga's 2017 appearance increased her digital sales by over 1,000 percent. And after Madonna's 2012 Super Bowl production, 165,000 fans downloaded her new song, "Give Me All Your Luvin" (via Forbes).

But even without paying the artists, Super Bowl half-time shows cost millions of dollars to put on — $10 million was the number floating around in 2020 before Shakira and JLO performed. Their half-time performance blew that out of the water. At least according to what a source told Reuters, Shakira and JLO's appearance cost the NFL (or its half-time sponsor, Pepsi) an astonishing $13 million for 13 minutes of show (via CNBC).

What goes into a performance that costs up to $1 million a minute to put on? Part of the Super Bowl half-time show's cost has to do with props. As CNBC points out, the NFL foots the bill for stagehands, band dues, and production costs. Which means that the 300 drones that Lady Gaga used in her performance or the giant puppet tiger and dancing beach balls that Katy Perry needed for hers? Those were things the NFL put on its credit card bill (via BBC).

Everything that goes into a Super Bowl half time show

As the BBC will tell you, viewers of the Super Bowl's first half-time production in 1960 were treated to the University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band's rendition of "The Liberty Bell." That's it. Seriously. Suffice to say that production costs have sky-rocketed since. That's thanks to the extremely complicated logistics involved in stage assembly, costume changes, and audio. "There are so many aspects of it, the dancers, the lighting elements, the special effects," Roc Nation's Dan Parise, who has produced the show with the NFL, told Reuters. "It's like a big jigsaw puzzle."

To give you an idea, setting up and taking down the half-time show is so complicated that the NFL starts planning it a year ahead of time. Right around the time that The Weeknd is performing at the 2021 show? The NFL will be working with artists and scouting locations for 2022. Meanwhile, NFL's senior vice president for programming and production Mark Quenzel confirmed to Reuters that an astonishing 2,000-3,000 people are involved in the show's logistics. The most vital of these are those involved in stage set-ups. Thirty-eight 12-person carts are required for the stage. Nineteen six-person carts are required for audio. When rehearsals start, crew members and performers often work 12-13 hour days. All of that, for what is, according to Quenzel, a detail. "It's never lost on us that we're the side show," he told Reuters.