Why The NFL and Pepsi Booked – But Didn't Pay – Bruno Mars For Super Bowl XLVIII (From the Magazine)

Bruno Mars

Kai Z. Feng

The following excerpt is from Billboard magazine's special Sports & Music Package which examines how music can play a larger role in the nearly $14 billion brands will this year spend on sports. This special section includes "The Big Scores," a story on music's role in this summer's World Cup; NBC's plan to use music extensively in its Winter Olympic Games coverage; and a special Billboard Sports & Music Roundtable with CAA's Tom Worcester, Columbia Records Agency's Brian Nolan, ESPN's Kevin Wilson, NFL's Sarah Moll, Coca-Cola's Joe Belliotti and GMR Marketing's Casey Gartland. You can pick-up this issue here. Subscribe to Billboard here.

Sarah Moll saw Bruno Mars three times this summer on his Moonshine Jungle tour. But it was halfway through the second show at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center that she knew she wanted to book him for the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show, the most-watched U.S. television event of the year.

“We knew we wanted to go a little younger and fresher, and Bruno really stuck out as we went to meet with him a few times,” says Moll, the NFL’s director of entertainment television and programming. “And every time I saw him, even though it was the same things, it was a different show and I walked away with a different perspective. We wanted to come off with the coolest 12 minutes in music, and he definitely is gonna do that. Just from having a conversation with the guy, his personality is so engaging. He may be a smaller guy, but he packs a big punch.”

As part of the NFL's policy, the league doesn't pay Super Bowl halftime performers, but instead foots the bill for travel and production costs. Of course, there are some exceptions -- this year's performer Beyonce had just renewed her decade-long endorsement deal with Halftime sponsor Pepsi to the tune of $50 million across several years and global media spend. Still, the Mars news marked the earliest announcement for a Super Bowl Halftime performance (revealed Sept. 8), and another milestone for the continued combination of sports, music and marketing.

Of course, not everyone shared Moll’s immediate enthusiasm for the Bruno booking. Some criticized Mars for his lack of connection to New Jersey, where Super Bowl XLVIII will take place, while others felt his track record was less proven than veteran acts who’ve graced the Halftime stage in the recent past like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, The Who and The Rolling Stones. Of the latter point, Pepsi’s VP of consumer engagement Adam Harter says Mars is “an extremely talented Grammy award-winning artist, with global appeal, and resonates with a very broad and diverse audience of music and sports fans.”

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Plus, Moll teases -- “Bruno’s been making some phone calls to some friends. We probably will announce another act before the performance. I don’t think it’s gonna be like anything we’ve done before. He’s so unique, and definitely the 20-degree weather will make it unique, but he’s excited. It will all be part of Bruno’s show.”

The Halftime slot, with an audience that reached a record 112.5 million viewers in 2012, has become a powerful sales tool. Whether it’s Beyonce announcing her Mrs. Carter World Tour on the back of her 2013 appearance, Madonna releasing lead "MDNA" single “Give Me All Your Luvin’” the week before her performance or Bruce Springsteen slotting his "Working On A Dream" album around his 2009 gig, few headlienrs have missed a chance to promote new product.

Tracy Perlman, the NFL’s vice president of entertainment marketing and promotions, points to U2’s powerful 2002 post-9/11 performance, which prompted a major sales spike of 2000’s "All That You Can’t Leave Behind." “They did a program across all 32 NFL cities with Clear Channel and flew 64 people to be on the field for their performance. They literally used that booking to promote an album that was two years old, and sold 200,000 copies the next day,” she says.

Atlantic Records' Camille Hackney, exec VP of Atlantic Records' brand partnerships, says plans are already in the works for a similar leverage point for Bruno Mars next year, but declined to specify just what. “We’d be remiss if we let that opportunity go,” she says coyly.