Here’s How the NFL Chooses the Super Bowl Halftime Performers

The Super Bowl halftime show is probably one of the most high-profile. After all, when else do musical artists have a captive audience of more than 100 million people? Even if half the TV viewers get snacks and go to the bathroom at halftime, that’s still at least 50 million people watching the show.

Singer Madonna performing
Madonna performs during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2012. | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Since it’s such a big stage, the Super Bowl halftime performers come from a pretty short list. Your friend’s cover band that plays Sunday night at the local watering hole probably has no chance of getting the gig, although even some of the biggest names in entertainment are responsible for the worst Super Bowl halftime shows. But how does the NFL choose who plays?

How the NFL chooses the Super Bowl halftime show performers

Prince, Super Bowl halftime performers
Prince performed at halftime of the Super Bowl in 2007. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NFL is a massive entity and the most popular sport in the United States, so it takes a lot of care to make the right choice for the Super Bowl halftime show. A journalist who used to cover the Tennessee Titans writes on Quora that the league considers popularity, music genre, and the artists’ overall performance value. So even though Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones were at the peak of their powers in the late 1960s, they didn’t have a broad enough appeal to play at the Super Bowl (not they would have wanted to play anyway).

So the league starts with popular performers who appeal to as many people as possible and goes from there. However, it’s not the NFL that chooses who takes the stage. The league comes up with a short list, but the host cities pick the Super Bowl halftime performers.

Atlanta, which hosts the 2019 Super Bowl, picked Maroon 5 to play at halftime. As we’re about to see, it will be a while before Adam Levine and his crew play at the big game a second time, if at all.

Most artists don’t play at the Super Bowl more than once

Beyonc?e, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Bruno Mars perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Beyonc?e, Chris Martin of Coldplay, and Bruno Mars shared the stage during the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The NFL doesn’t bring back performers too often. Aside from Up With People, who played four times between 1976 and 1986, the league has never repeated the artist who’s headlined the Super Bowl halftime show. Only a handful of artists have even appeared more than once at the halftime show in any capacity:

  • Justin Timberlake: He headlined in 2018 and was onstage with Janet Jackson in 2004 when the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” happened. He was part of ’N’Sync when it performed in 2001.
  • Bruno Mars: The pop singer was the main attraction in 2014 and joined featured artist Coldplay in 2016.
  • Beyonce: Queen Bey had top billing in 2013 and was the only performer to grace the stage. Like Mars, she appeared with Coldplay in 2016.
  • Gloria Estefan: She was part of two ensemble performances in the 1990s, one in 1999 and the other in 1992.
  • Al Hirt: Trumpeter and bandleader Al Hirt performed three times, first at Super Bowl I in 1967 and again in 1970 and 1972.

Madonna, who is one of the biggest pop stars of all time even though she hates some of her own hit songs, played just once, in 2012.

How much do the performers make?

The Super Bowl halftime show features the most popular musical artists in the United States playing in front of one of the largest audiences putting on some of the most memorable shows of all time, so they must get paid a fortune, right? They don’t get anything for playing, according to The New York Times.

Michael Jackson Super Bowl halftime performers
Michael Jackson was the only Super Bowl halftime performer the NFL opened the checkbook for. | Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

The Super Bowl halftime performers don’t receive their standard appearance fee, though the NFL pays for all the expenses for the band and its handlers and support staff. The only time the NFL opened the checkbook for a halftime performer was when Michael Jackson played in 1993. The league donated $100,000 to his Heal the World Foundation.

Even though the artists don’t get a paycheck, the Super Bowl is still a lucrative gig. Artists usually see album sales jump after playing the show. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers greatest hits album tripled its sales the week after their 2008 performance.