Super Bowl Halftime Pay-to-Play Reports: Grammys Producer Weighs In

Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers Perform at Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, 2014 in New Jersey
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Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers Perform at Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, 2014 in New Jersey

'I don't know that a Super Bowl performance, other than exposing an artist to a larger audience, does as much as the right performance on 'Saturday Night Live' or the right moment on the Grammys,' Ken Ehrlich tells Billboard.

The NFL is making headlines this week for supposed pay-to-play negotiations with finalists for the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show, reported to involve Katy Perry, Coldplay and Rihanna. Executives familiar with plans tell Billboard that the initial reports suggesting artists would pay the league directly have been exaggerated ("In no case would the NFL ever say, 'Please write us a check,'" says one source), and that halftime sponsor Pepsi will help defray some production costs, which are in the low seven figures.

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Ongoing negotiations notwithstanding, at least one veteran TV producer is questioning the halftime show's overall value to artists.

Ken Ehrlich, who has produced the Grammy Awards for more than 30 years, tells Billboard, "I don't know that a Super Bowl performance, other than exposing an artist to a larger audience, does as much as the right performance on 'Saturday Night Live' or the right moment on the Grammys. I don't question the value of the cache of being the halftime Super Bowl act. It's easy to remember Bruce Springsteen, it's easy to remember Prince. Bruce and Prince -- they were as big as the venue. Honestly, at other times, the venue was bigger than the artist."

This year's headliner, Bruno Mars, was a big leap of faith for the NFL, who had previously tapped more established stars like The Who, U2 and Madonna to anchor the 12-minute concert. The gamble paid off, with Mars' halftime currently holding the record for most-watched in Super Bowl history. Though it helped sell out the second leg of Mars' Moonshine Jungle Tour, Ehrlich argues it wasn't a "career-defining moment." "It's kind of easy to remember Bruno Mars, but Bruno basically did the same thing he had done before, just on a larger stage with lasers," he says. "Katy Perry, Coldplay and Rihanna have already had career-defining moments on television."

As Billboard recently hypothesized in a speculative column posted on Aug. 15, Katy Perry is the most likely front-runner for the gig based on her track record of No. 1 hits, as well as sheer logistics -- her PRISMatic World Tour has a month-long gap in dates right around the Feb. 1 timing of the Super Bowl. Ehrlich remains ambivalent on the Super Bowl's relative impact for her too. "Katy Perry is larger than life. Her tour, no question, is the biggest tour out there. It's probably the kind of performance that will not be dwarfed by the venue. Will it do for her what her performance of 'Dark Horse' did on the Grammys? Who knows?

"Katy Perry was a huge star," Ehrlich continues of the time she played "Roar" on last fall's MTV VMAs, as well as "Dark Horse" on this year's Grammys. "It makes a lot of sense for Katy Perry to do a Super Bowl, but if it's true she has to pay to do it, then it becomes questionable. I don't know what the value received is."

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