How Can the NFL Fix Its Halftime Show Problem Next Year?
After the flap in Atlanta, experts weigh in on what the league should do next year to get the focus back on music. "They have to appeal to everybody, and now... they're appealing to nobody."
No one took a knee, no curses or middle fingers slipped by censors in prime time, and nobody made any political statements during Sunday night's Super Bowl LIII halftime show. But just because Maroon 5 stuck to a predictable script in the midst of calls for them to either kneel or take a stand against the NFL's continuing freezing out of QB Colin Kaepernick, the league's collective sigh of relief may last only long enough until meetings to decide who they should book for next year's halftime in Miami.
While it's a bit early to start speculating about who might play the 2020 halftime show, Billboard reached out to a number of experts -- several of whom requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic -- to ask them how the NFL can turn what has become a somewhat radioactive showcase back into the highly coveted, career-topping bucket-list gig it was just a few years ago. (A spokesperson for the NFL had not responded to Billboard's calls for comment at press time.)
Vic Oyedeji, founder of the petition that drew more than 115,000 signatures asking Maroon 5 to drop out of the halftime gig (and/or #TakeAKnee) in support of Kaepernick: The damage has already been done, and I don't say that in a good or bad way. The stage represents what it represents, but as long as Kaepernick isn't signed to the NFL, any artist that believes that he took a knee for the right reasons shouldn’t perform. That stands for this year and next year and the year after until Kaepernick retires or says he's done.
Until then, no artist should take this stage, because they'll be siding with the NFL. That said, I have a feeling the NFL might look for rock artists because there's little backlash in the rock community. Rock and country artists wold probably make more sense, which would be a safer bet. I'm not sure I'll do another petition [for next year's halftime], it remains to be seen what happens with Kaepernick.
Veteran industry professional: There’s bigger issues now that the NFL has to deal with, which are endemic to the problem about why people don’t want to perform. There are 90 things they have to deal with before the Super Bowl halftime show, including: How do they address the Kaepernick situation?
The Super Bowl [performer] doesn't always have to be tied to the city... U2 has done it, and there's no NFL team in Dublin last time I checked. But this year with it in Atlanta and Atlanta being the hip-hop capital of the world, they had to address that with Travis Scott and Big Boi performing. It's not always the NFL's job to do that, but it does need to address the underlying problem of why artists are unwilling to play it.
It could be anything next year, something unrelated to the city it's in; most performances have not been tied regionally [to the venue]. The fact is, it could be a completely different situation 12 months from now that we can't predict. The NFL just needs to make their plans, and when they get around that table in the next few weeks, they have to talk about what went right and wrong -- then it's up to the artist they approach to decide if they want to participate. The press is making it seem like 20 people turned down the gig before Maroon 5 took it, but they got the offer and took it, and next year the first person they ask will probably take it too.
Michael Weinreb, sports journalist and author (Bigger Than the Game): If the Kaepernick situation drags on, could we be headed back to an Up With People situation? They’re boxed in on the Kaepernick situation... they don't want to offend 40-50 percent of the audience [by allowing an act to acknowledge Kaepernick during their set] and [NFL commissioner Roger] Goodell doesn't have the will or the courage to do anything about it. Maybe they book a country act for the next few years. But really, [the NFL] are prisoners to their own popularity because [they have to appeal to everybody, and now they're at the point where they're appealing to nobody.
It all comes back to the Kaepernick situation, though -- and they have to either address that or hope that Trump gets knocked out of office and they're not the target of people's ire like they are now. I can't think of many things that are bigger and more prevalent in American life than the Super Bowl, and they've trafficked on that currency for a long time, but this is killing the momentum thay had in buidling an international audience.
Chronic, hip-hop manager for South Florida acts Trick Daddy and Trina: I don’t think they’ll have a hard time finding artists because... I understand Kaepernick's point and support him, but I’m a bigger fan of the game. I'm an NFL fanatic more than a fan of any one individual who plays the game. At the same time, I understand and respect the NFL's point of people using their platform to voice certain opinions and messages as a businessperson. They have a brand to protect.
To get it right here in Miami I think is pretty easy. I don’t think artists here will boycott like certain artists did [in Atlanta]. I think the NFL has to reach out to people like Uncle Luke, Trick Daddy, Trina, Flo Rida, Pitbull, Gloria Estefan, back to someone like Betty Wright or KC and the Sunshine Band, who've played before. They're all Miami representatives, and they have a lot of fans here, especially in the urban community, who are fanatics for the NFL. Artists like that will show up and do their thing. Just because the Super Bowl is in your town doesn't mean all the artists in that town should do whatever, but to some extent you have to have some artists from that city if you can, because then you’ll get hometown love and support.
Longtime industry marketing executive who's worked with past Super Bowl acts: Nobody is going to walk out or boycott the Super Bowl or the hafltime show -- it's the biggest showcase you can have in the music industry. It's tough because I don't think the problem is the music showcase. Yes, it's hugely rated, but I don't know how cool [the halftime show] is anymore. From a cultural standpoint, it's the same problem the Grammys have: They're trying to be relevant, but the people they want to be relevant to aren't watching CBS on TV and they're not reaching the people that crave and consume music. They're reaching baby boomers.
The odds of doing it right are less and less every year, because the show is uncool and it attracts an audience that doesn't mean anything and the people who watch it don't make a difference. Adam Levine does The Voice, and does it help his career? Sure, it's lots of exposure. And the Super Bowl... you can't turn your back on 100 million people, but if it's the wrong 100 million people, it will be a negative, and there's only one way it can go.
What I've learned in my career is that you can promote something into the biggest thing in world, and once it is the biggest thing and mareketed as such, there's only one way to fucking go. This is a cultural milestone of music, entertainment and television, and now it can destroy a career just by doing it. I'm not sure there is an easy way to turn it around.
Daniel Kaplan, NFL writer: The league has struggled politically in recent years because of its response to President Trump attacking players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality. The difficulty in securing an act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime act underscores that, and perhaps it's why the traditional Super Bowl halftime act press conference was abruptly canceled. My guess is Maroon 5 did not want to answer political questions centering on why it took the gig when others backed out. My opinion is the NFL this past season began moving beyond politics and this will not be as big an issue moving forward. After all, the Super Bowl halftime show offers unprecedented exposure for any act.
Howard Bragman, veteran communications specialist: "I think the NFL has a bigger issue, and it’s not the Super Bowl halftime show... it's how is it going to treat its players and allow them to protest? It's a bigger issue for soceity, and I don't know if whatever the NFL chooses is ever going to make anyone happy. I'm always on the side of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. I think the vast majority of people watching want to see a good game and watch good music and escape politics for a few hours.
I don't think it will be hard to find someone next year. I think they have to understand inclusion and that they're in South Florida with the biggest live musical event each year, which people want to do, but they have to give them a reason to do it. If it was me, I'd say, "I’m gonna call Pitbull and say, 'You want to be producer?'" And let him know you want him to be part of it. I would be smart and inclusive about it, and not just throw my weight around. Music and sports is supposed to bring us together, not separate us. Country music could work, but you also have to have something that represents the huge Latino population down there."
Trick Daddy, Miami-based rapper: Atlanta's got a lot of big artists with big records, so they could have done a lot better reaching out to different eras. When you come to Miami, they would have to fuck with Trick Daddy, Trina, Rock Ross, KC and the Sunshine Band, Betty Wright, Gloria and Emilio [Estefan] and make it multiculural like we represent. They making a lot of money off the NFL and a lot of money off the players, and I think it's only right of them to give back to the city, show some love to the artists that made the city the place they want to do it in.
They shouldn't have a hard time [booking it]. A petition ain’t never paid my motherfuckin' bills. I’m a leader, I’m not a follower. If anybody says they don't want to do it, they should hire me to find them.