How much money should Coldplay pay to play the Super Bowl halftime show?

The NFL might start asking artists to pay to play the Super Bowl halftime show. How much would Coldplay have to pay?

Ever since the National Football League first proposed that performers pay to play the Super Bowl halftime show, music and football fans alike have been curious about what’s happening behind closed doors in the lead up to one of the world’s biggest sporting events. At the time, in 2014, the NFL was seeking a performance from Coldplay, Katy Perry, or Rihanna. All three rejected the NFL’s initial terms, and Katy Perry ended up with the spot through traditional means – that is, playing for free, with the NFL covering production and travel costs. Still, we couldn’t help asking the hypothetical question: If the NFL was right, and performers should pay to play, then exactly how much should they pay? The figure we came to for Katy Perry was $5m – or approximately half of the halftime show’s production costs. Now it’s time to apply the same treatment to Coldplay. So, how much money should Coldplay pay to play the Super Bowl halftime show? Spoiler alert: We’re not going as easy on them.

Even though it sounds strange and even outright exploitative at first, the idea of artists paying to play the Super Bowl is not as crazy as it seems. That’s because the Super Bowl halftime show is far from a regular concert. To the contrary, it can be interpreted as an advertising platform for the performers’ music and brand – and very likely the biggest and best advertising platform there is.

There are two ways of looking at it:

1. The traditional approach: The NFL needs to hire top talent for the halftime show so they can boost interest in the game, and performers are doing them a favor by offering their services for free.
2. The NFL’s emerging approach: The NFL is a broker for a performance slot that guarantees exposure to hundreds of millions of viewers, an immediate surge in album sales, dramatically increased show attendance, and numerous other financially beneficial perks. Performers should pay them the equivalent of a commission fee.

For the sake of this article, we’re assuming #2 is the correct approach. With that in mind, how much should Coldplay fork over to the NFL before they take the stage on February 7th? It comes down to a few major factors.

Factor 1: The Super Bowl keeps breaking viewership records, and the halftime show is a bigger part of the game than ever

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As we outlined last year, it was only relatively recently that the Super Bowl halftime show turned into a huge gala instead of a forgettable game break with marching bands and color guards. The big change came with Michael Jackson’s earth-shattering performance in 1993, which accompanied an unprecedented spike in viewership numbers.

After wavering between 1993 and 2005, the NFL got its bearings and realized what works: One superstar performer to headline the whole show, with some guests sprinkled in from time to time. Since then, viewership has increased by nearly 40% and each year and has consistently set a new record over the last, save in 2013 when a blackout interrupted the game’s telecast.

Last year’s game had a record 114.4 million viewers – over a third of the population of the United States. At the current rate of growth, this year’s Super Bowl could come in close to 120 million.

For some perspective, Coldplay would have to perform in 6,000 sold out 20,000-seat arenas to reach the same number of people. This would require them to play a show every day for over 16 years. All of that in one 13-minute performance. If there’s any better opportunity for exposure in the world, we can’t think of it.

Factor 2: The airtime for the halftime performance will be worth $130 million

CBS announced earlier this year that they would charge advertisers up to $5m for 30 seconds of airtime. That’s a new record and an increase from $4.5m last year and $4m the year before. If Coldplay wanted to purchase 13 minutes of primo airtime for themselves, they would have to spend $130m. That’s only $10m shy of Chris Martin’s entire net worth. It’s also more than even Katy Perry would’ve had to pay last year, at $104m for the same amount of time.

As the official sponsor of the halftime show, Pepsi will be handing over $7m for the privilege to slap their logo everywhere, but that’s the only financial compensation anyone will receive for the airtime.

This is more complex than it seems because the network televising the event, not the NFL, sells and keeps advertising revenue. There will be more on that later. But for now, the point is that Coldplay will be getting $123m (or $130m-$7m) of personal advertising time for free.

Factor 3: Coldplay can expect massive long term financial benefits from this performance

It’s basic logic that any act playing to so many viewers can expect a bump in album sales, ticket sales, and general popularity, but we can’t emphasize enough how large that bump is for artists playing the Super Bowl. Last year, Katy Perry’s digital album sales increased by 92% just during the Super Bowl broadcast, and Missy Elliot, who only appeared briefly, saw hers go up by 996%.

On top of that, every Super Bowl halftime show performer in recent years has become one of the highest, if not the highest, paid musicians in the world after their performance. Following in the footsteps of Madonna, who was the world’s top earning musician in 2013 with $125m, Katy Perry assumed the same spot for 2015 with $135m. Perry was also the highest paid celebrity in the world in 2015 after Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. That’s much more than a bump – it’s more like pole vaulting from a successful career to the absolute top of the game. With their album, A Head Full of Dreams, released this past December and a world tour kicking off in March, Coldplay are set to reap the fullest benefits of their Super Bowl exposure and could very well become the highest paid musicians of 2016.

Factor 4: Coldplay could use the attention

While there’s no doubting that Coldplay are an extremely successful band, their sales and popularity have slipped significantly in recent years. Take a look at their album sales over time:

They’ve been on a steady decline since 2002’s massive hit, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and they experienced their biggest drop recently between Mylo Xyloto (2011) and Ghost Stories (2014). In fact, by Coldplay standards, Ghost Stories was a bit of a flop, and it’s understandable why there’s a lot of pressure to turn things around with A Head Full of Dreams.


Of course, it’s important to look at this against the decline of album sales in general, but even considering the whole industry is hurting, Coldplay’s drop off between 2011 and the present is still alarming. On top of that, the decline of record sales as a means for any musician to make money underscores the importance of marketing through other vessels, like a Super Bowl performance (source: Nielsen Music).
To that end, Coldplay has also been slipping in tour revenue and overall income. Their Viva la Vida tour brought in an incredible $209.4m over 168 stops, and their followup tour for Mylo Xyloto saw a more efficient $192.5m over 85 shows. The band only played 20 dates after the release of their last album, Ghost Stories, and while revenue figures haven’t been made public to date, you can be sure they don’t come close to touching their previous two tours. So there’s also a lot of pressure on their upcoming tour for A Head Full of Dreams, which has 38 shows announced so far but more to come. Just as Bruno Mars saw a bump in ticket sales following his Super Bowl performance, Coldplay can expect some major help on this tour following theirs. That means a lot in a world where people are buying fewer and fewer albums and artists rely on tour revenue more than ever for their income.

On top of that, Coldplay’s days of ranking highly among the world’s most paid musicians seem to be behind them – for now. They hit #14 on the Forbes Celebrity 100 in 2013, but have fallen off of that list completely in 2014 and 2015. They also didn’t place in the world’s top earning musicians in either year.

Coldplay are far from unpopular these days, and they’re still some of the richest musicians on the planet, but the boost they are set to gain from playing the Super Bowl could very well take them from their relative slump and put them back at the top of the music industry.

Factor 5: The NFL doesn’t really benefit from the incremental success of the Super Bowl or its halftime show

When we talk about growing revenues from Super Bowl advertising, it’s important to remember that the money goes to the network showing the game and not the NFL. The NFL sells the rights to football broadcasts, regular season and postseason combined, to a handful of major networks all in one go. In 2011, the NFL reached a deal with CBS, NBC, and FOX to broadcast games through 2022, each network trading off the Super Bowl from one year to the next. Each network paid at least $1bn per year in the nine year deal, meaning the NFL has secured at least $27bn through 2022. That’s obviously a massive amount of money, but it’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t change as the Super Bowl gains more and more viewers and the halftime show becomes more and more of a career-making spectacle. The NFL makes an additional $50m per year on Super Bowl ticket and merchandise sales, but again, that stream is not directly tied to a growth in television viewership.

At the same time, the NFL is responsible for booking and paying for the halftime show – an event that can only get more expensive as artists seize on the opportunity it provides for them. Production costs are generally kept under wraps, but we do know Bruno Mars’ relatively low-key show cost $10m to produce. Even with Pepsi’s $7m sponsorship that still leaves at least a $3m gap. The NFL might be well within its means to foot the bill, but the payoff is mostly intangible for them. So why do it?

With all this in mind, how much should Coldplay pay to play the Super Bowl halftime show?

Last year, we said Katy Perry should pay $5m, or roughly half of the show’s production costs. This year, we’re not letting off Coldplay so easily.

Assuming there must be some increased production costs over time, let’s just say that Katy Perry’s $5m would cover the gap between the NFL’s expenses and Pepsi’s contribution. The NFL should do more than break even this time, especially given what Coldplay stand to gain from the performance over their relatively weak recent years. They’re a very, very big band, but they’re not world-class superstars, and the recent trajectory of their career has been downward. This performance virtually promises to point that trajectory back upward and turn them into world-class superstars. It’s an opportunity that will pay off immensely, and it’s worth an investment.

How much, exactly? We’re going with $20 million. Think about it as $5m for the cost of the performance, $5m as commission to the NFL, and $10m for the best PR and marketing campaign any band could ever ask for.

Greg Bouchard

Greg Bouchard is a former Content Marketing Manager at Firmex.