The Super Bowl stands as an unparalleled spectacle, seamlessly merging the worlds of sport and music to create a cultural phenomenon that transcends traditional boundaries. It is an event where the love for the game and the anticipation of the Halftime Show coalesce, attracting a diverse audience that extends beyond avid sports fans. This unique fusion has positioned the Super Bowl as the pinnacle moment in popular culture, creating a powerful magnet for global viewership and engagement.
I would go as far to say that this year’s Usher masterclass was my personal favourite Super Bowl Halftime Show ever! A nostalgic 13-minute journey through Usher’s epic catalogue of hits, with intricate choreography, flawless vocals and seamless costume changes. The impressive guest line-up of Alicia Keys, Ludacris, will.i.am, H.E.R and Lil Jon kept the energy high throughout, but perhaps the most memorable was the seamless skating sequence with clips filling my social feed this morning.
I was interested to read Adele’s recent comments where she told fans at her Caesars Palace residency show that she won’t be attending the Super Bowl in person this year as she claims the Halftime Show is a better viewing experience on TV. This just goes to show how the Halftime Show is curated with the global TV and VOD audience front of mind, vs just those lucky enough to be in stadia.
It prompted me to reflect on how the NFL serves as a compelling inspiration for other sports properties and brands on how best to leverage the marriage of sport x music at notable sporting events. Beyond enhancing the fan experience through entertainment, in my view there’s a lot of untapped potential, particularly in the UK/Europe where there are several other brand and business benefits for rightsholders, including:
- Diversifying and expanding their fanbase: music has broad appeal which can engage those who might not be traditional sports enthusiasts. According to Live Nation, 40% of Gen Z fans say the Halftime Show is the top reason they watch the Super Bowl, compared to just 9% for the game.
- Increased media coverage: garnering attention from more music-focused outlets, therefore increasing overall visibility, talkability and buzz around the event.
- Additional sponsorship revenue opportunities: for example, by offering the sole and exclusive rights for a show to a brand sponsor.
There are some notable examples of UK/European rightsholders that are successful in this space. The Hundred, cricket’s newest innovation, have partnered with BBC Music Introducing since 2021, offering an exciting line-up of live music and DJs from emerging artists at each of the 64 games, which they describe as the biggest sport and music collaboration in UK history. Off the field and on the track, British icons Ella Eyre and Tinie Tempah performed at the season finale of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship last year to celebrate the culmination of the motorsport championship series. I admire the fact that these emerging sports events see the value in incorporating entertainment to promote and spark interest in these relatively new events.
In addition, the UEFA Champions League Final Kick Off Show by Pepsi produces an epic pre-match spectacle at the most prestigious club football final in the world with slick, vibrant performances featuring global, culturally relevant artists. This serves as a brilliant example of an historic event throwing open its doors to broader audiences to elevate the matchday experience both for fans in the stadium and the millions tuned in across the globe, whilst maintaining relevance with the next generation fans.
Comprehensive statistics vary depending on the event and its entertainment offering, but taking the Super Bowl again as an example, Rihanna’s Halftime Show in 2023 garnered more viewers (118m average) than the game itself (115m average), demonstrating a clear correlation between entertainment offerings at sports events and increased viewership.
A challenge for the traditional sports institutions though is being able to strike the right balance when incorporating modern music performances at events to avoid alienating their core fanbase. While integrating contemporary music can attract new demographics and enhance the overall atmosphere, it’s equally important to honour the preferences and expectations of loyal fans who value the traditional aspects of the sporting experience.
Over the weekend, Tottenham Hotspur FC made a notable move by introducing a halftime set by emerging singer-songwriter and lifelong Spurs fan Declan McKenna during one of their matches. While the performance wasn’t broadcast, it demonstrates Tottenham’s willingness to diversify their match day offering. McKenna was a choiceful artist to resonate with their loyal supporters as he is such an advocate for the club with some of his songs inspired by Spurs’ players.
To summarise, my main takeaway would be that a well-curated music lineup adds an entertainment dimension to the overall match day experience, making it more than just a sporting event. This added value can keep fans excited and engaged, leading to repeat attendance / higher viewership, which is an opportunity for rightsholders and brands alike.
The UK is home to the Premier League, the most viewed football league in the world, and the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament on the planet, The Wimbledon Championships. I would personally love to see them integrating musical experiences to show the world the UK is a global leader in offering unparalleled fan experiences that brilliantly taps into the universal passions of both sports and music.
However, with such sports rooted in tradition and a rich history of community and culture, any music integration needs to feel authentic to the sport, striking a balance between recognising the evolving preferences and interests of contemporary audiences but not to alienate their core fanbase.