(Half) time for a change?

Following on from one of the biggest media moments to hit the world’s sporting calendar, Sport Industry NextGen Leader Owen Laverty puts a question to the industry…

This time last year, I wrote a piece about how the power of music can help sporting properties grow their existing fan bases and the Super Bowl Half Time Show has always been the perfect example of this; a monumental cultural crossover of sport and music during which the NFL (not to mention Pepsi) can sit back and rub their hands in glee as viewing figures roll in and audience numbers swell way beyond the reach of any other game.

The NFL’s huge investment in the Half Time Show ultimately allows them to transcend traditional media channels, gaining coverage across fashion, music and gossip pages the world over, whilst earning them cultural kudos by giving new fans the opportunity to engage in a sport they otherwise wouldn’t have tuned in to. And, for the most part, this works. Since MJ’s 1993 performance the formula has remained relatively unchanged: superstar artist(s) puts on a huge show with amazing stage production and everyone goes home happy. It was revolutionary. It was game-changing. And since then it has become a cultural phenomenon other properties can only dream of.

However, as we know from our years in the sports and music industries, relying on one single media moment can be problematic. When it pops, (excuse the pun) it’s electric. It’s remembered forever. But when it doesn’t, all that time, effort and money has been invested into something that is gone in the blink of an eye. There is no legacy. Our Fan Intelligence® tracking of the long tail of fan conversation from 2013’s show-stopping Beyonce/Destiny’s Child combo, versus the lack of any fan chatter post 2014’s Bruno Mars/RHCP duo, gave a clear demonstration of this.

Relying on one single media moment can be problematic

To be blunt, unfortunately for JT, initial media and fan sentiment around this year’s show has not been mind-bogglingly good, as confirmed by our 4,000 strong Fan Intelligence® network. According to our research, Timberlake’s core fans were delighted to see him perform (so box ticked there) whilst the NFL has been positively accepted into the JT fan group. But the show doesn’t seem to have hit the mark within wider music and cultural circles, with the show only resonating with 22% of non-NFL or J.T. fans we spoke to.

Sure, the NFL benefitted from all of JT’s pre-show media commitments, granting them VIP access to chat show couches, awards dinner speeches and comedy sketches where they wouldn’t usually have found themselves. But it still feels like an opportunity missed because all of this hinged on the promise of an amazing show. And therein lies the potential issue. In 2018, it simply doesn’t make sense to continue to let it all hang on a barnstorming appearance on stage. So is it time for a change? 

Everything we’re taught as sports marketers tells us that we need to plan for all types of on-field performances. This means going big on pre-moments that don’t hinge on a good or bad day at the ballpark, and storing some additional assets for if the ultimate happens and we get our big win, ensuring fans leave with a positive experience no matter the final result.

As a rights holder, the NFL has been absolutely incredible at applying this ethos to game-related content and packaging and repackaging the sport for different fan types. As someone who has moved along the scale of NFL fan engagement, I’ve directly benefitted from their genius in creating NFL RedZone, the Amazon 'All or Nothing' documentary series and the snappy game highlights featured on YouTube every weekend. I would love to see Pepsi and the NFL apply this innovation and expertise in packaging sports content to the Half Time Show.

As a rights holder/brand duo, they have one of the most valuable bartering chips in sport - the chance to play on the world’s biggest sporting stage and engage a global audience - and it would be great to see them leverage this to take Super Bowl entertainment to a whole new level beyond the traditional 13 minute window.


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