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The Fringe Benefits To Bruno Mars' Free Super Bowl Gig


Early ratings are in for last night's Super Bowl. And while down a bit from last year, the game clocked a respectable 96.9 million viewers. The halftime show was easily the most high-profile gig singer Bruno Mars has enjoyed in his young career.


CORNISH: And while the 12-minute slot is a highly coveted one, it's not a high-paying one. In fact, Mars joins the ranks of pop stars like Beyonce, Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas who have played the show for free. So how did the Super Bowl halftime show get to be an unpaid gig? We turn now to Forbes' music and entertainment writer, Zack Greenburg.

Hey there, Zack.

ZACK GREENBURG: Hey. Thanks for having me on.

CORNISH: So one fun fact I learned about the halftime show is that in 1992, the sketch comedy show "In Living Color," on Fox ,siphoned away like millions of viewers from the NFL Super Bowl.


UNIDENTIFIED CAST MEMBER: Yo. Welcome to our Super Bowl halftime set. We've got some super-slick, smash it with a brick if you don't like it, you can - sorry, censors. That's merely a display item...

CORNISH: And so it's the next year - 1993, right? - when the Super Bowl halftime gig becomes a big deal.

GREENBURG: That's correct. I think the NFL kind of noticed what happened there and said, well, how can we prevent all of our viewers from going to another network? Why don't we get the biggest pop star in the world? And that's exactly what they did. They went and they got Michael Jackson. And he put on, you know, what is really the first modern Super Bowl halftime performance. Truly show-stopping - in a literal sense. He stood for over a minute, totally still, before he even launched into his set, enticing the audience to kind of stay and watch.

And the results were incredible. Viewership actually went up year over year, despite the fact that the game was a complete blowout. You know, I think that was the genesis of the Super Bowl halftime performances that we've come to see in subsequent years, from the likes of U2 or Madonna or Beyonce.

CORNISH: So help us understand the economics of this. The NFL covers the costs of setup, travel, hotels. Obviously, sponsors like Pepsi help underwrite that bill. Why not pay the artist?

GREENBURG: Well, they don't pay the artist because they don't have to. The artist is thrilled - any artist, really - to get that gig. The amount of exposure they get is completely unparalleled. If you think about it from the perspective of, you know, how much would you pay for it if you were a brand to have a 30-second spot, it's probably 3- or $4 million for a commercial. We're talking a 12-minute show for these performers. And it's essentially a commercial for them - for their albums, for their tours. You know, there's not really another opportunity like it in the entertainment world.

CORNISH: So give us some examples because a lot of the artists in the last couple of years actually weren't Bruno Mars types, right? I mean, you have U2 and the Rolling Stones and Madonna. I mean, what kind of boost does this give an artist of that stature?

GREENBURG: You know, if you look through - Billboard did a good wrap-up of the boost, albums-wise and singles-wise, to some of the artists. Beyonce got a 62 percent bump from the week before. You know, Madonna got incredible boost of 44 percent on her downloads, 410 percent on back catalog sales. I mean, the numbers are pretty incredible.

I think where it gets even better for the artist is when you think about touring. That's where the majority of these big acts make their huge dollars. And if you take someone - especially like Bruno Mars, who's only now kind of getting up into the 7-, $800,000 per night gross range - this is going to probably push him over the million-dollar mark, which is occupied only by the likes of Beyonce and Paul McCartney and kind of people of that stature, who've done the Super Bowl before.

CORNISH: And is there a sense of how soon we'll know what kind of effect this has had on Bruno Mars? We know that he was the second most-searched term yesterday; 2 million hits, according to Google Trends.

GREENBURG: Yeah. The data will come in pretty quickly, I think, on social media. You know, that will be reflected in the upcoming week's charts. But it'll take a little longer to see the impact on his tour, and I think it'll be harder to quantify because it's not necessarily an immediate boost. You know, it's more somebody looking at their calendar; oh, Bruno Mars is going to be in my town in July - you know, maybe I'll go ahead and buy the ticket because I really liked his Super Bowl performance. And, you know, I think we'll see that kind of more as the year goes on and really, as his career goes on. It's just going to be hard to quantify exactly how much of that came from the Super Bowl. But, you know, from my perspective, it's definitely good for a big bump.

CORNISH: Zack Greenburg - he's a senior editor at Forbes where he covers the business of music and entertainment in his column The Beat Report. Thanks so much for talking with us.

GREENBURG: Thanks for having me on.

: (Singing) 'Cause you make me feel like I've been locked out of heaven for too long... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.