The A-Z of the Super Bowl Half-Time Show

From Prince to Left Shark...

BY Fionnuala Jones 19:30 Saturday 4 February 2017, 19:30 4 Feb 2017

Picture by Morry Gash AP/Press Association Images

The first big date of the sporting calendar of 2017 is upon us, with Super Bowl LI (literally) kicking off on Sunday. 

The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons face off in a hotly contested game, and everyone has an opinion on the potential winner - Siri favours the Patriots, as does EA's Madden franchise.

For those thoroughly disinterested in pig-skin balls, however, look no further than the Half-Time Show - an institution within the music industry that has the potential to cap or tarnish a musician's legacy make or break careers.

Following an underwhelming response to her fifth studio album Joanne, Lady Gaga is looking to her first Super Bowl half-time performance to balance the books.

Let's take a look at what it takes to pull off the biggest (and potentially shortest) gig of the year:

A is for ... Advertising

'A' could also be for 'astronomical' - as in, the astronomical costs of advertising at the Super Bowl. 

The average production cost is north of $1m and companies are dropping an average of $5m for a 30-second time slot during the big game.

According to Fortune, oftentimes an additional 25% of their overall budget is spent on promoting the ad itself leading up to the main event.

Some advertisers wait to make their big reveal during the game and others come up with a unique plan on how to make every penny spent count (more on that in a minute), others make their ads available to watch before kickoff.

This year, Budweiser courted controversy with the leak of their Super Bowl ad. 

The 60 second Super Bowl advert titled 'Born the Hard Way' traces Adolphus Busch's journey from Germany to the US in 1857.

B is for ... The Boss

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band played the Super Bowl Half-Time Show in 2009, ordering people to "step back from the guacamole dip".

"I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up!" he said.

Bruce gave an insight into how to pull off the career-defining show in his documentary Working On A Dream: A Super Bowl Journal.

C is for ... Counter-programming

In 1991, Fox aired comedy sketch show In Living Colour as a counter-programme for the half-time show of US leader CBS's live telecast of Super Bowl XXVI.

The move put a fire under the NFL, leading to the booking of Michael Jackson as the half-time performer for the following year - and marked the shift in thinking of the half-time show as more than a bathroom break.

D is for ... Disney

Disney frequently produce the half-time football extravaganza, most recently in 2000.

However, your favourite furry characters were nowhere to be seen - instead, Disney decided to put on a high concept 10-minute concert version of their WDW Millennium Celebration with elements of Reflections of Earth and Tapestry of Nations.

Performing was Christina Aguilera, Phil Collins, Enrique Iglesias, and Toni Braxton and they brought out Edward James Olmos to narrate.

E is for ... Exposure

Half-time performers are paid the going rate of a student journalist - that is, in exposure.

Yep, when Lady Gaga eventually takes to the stage on Sunday, she will be doing so with absolutely zilch in her pocket.

According to Nielsen SoundScan data, the half-time performers regularly experience significant spikes in weekly album sales and paid digital downloads due to the exposure.

For Super Bowl XLIX, it was reported by the Wall Street Journal that league officials asked representatives of potential acts if they would be willing to provide financial compensation to the NFL in exchange for their appearance, in the form of either an up-front fee, or a cut of revenue from concert performances made after the Super Bowl.

While these reports were denied by an NFL spokeswoman, the request had, according to the newspaper, received a "chilly" response from those involved.

F is for ... Formation

A relatively-unknown act by the name of Beyoncé Knowles threatened to derail the half-time show at Super bowl 50 with a simple song.

Formation was the lead single from the her 2016 album Lemonade, a statement summarising all it meant to be black and female in the 21st century. 

Naturally, this threatened legions of white men across the US who criticised the performance for seemingly being "anti-police". Her alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement didn't go down well either.

"This is football, not Hollywood, and I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive,"  former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said.

It spawned the hashtag '#BoycottBeyonce' on Twitter, and the organisation of a protest at NFL headquarters the following day. 

No one showed up. Because, Beyoncé.

G is for ... Guests 

The ironic thing about Beyoncé's show-stopping performance at Super Bowl 50? She wasn't even the main performer.

She - as well as Bruno Mars - were invited back as guests of lead act Coldplay, but ended up inevitably overshadowing them by a large margin.

Previous guests of main stage acts include Lenny Kravitz for Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers for Bruno Mars and Nicki Minaj for Madonna.

There's no word on who will be accompanying Gaga for her romp, but with any luck it'll be Migos following a social media campaign backing them.

H is for ... Hamish Hamilton

The man behind orchestrating Coldplay's grand overshadowing was British director Hamish Hamilton. 

Speaking to Billboard Magazine ahead of that performance, he said: "To stage the show, you have to get the stage down a tunnel or a number of tunnels.

"You start with, 'How big is the tunnel? How many tunnels are there? And how much shit can we get through those tunnels in the eight minutes that we have to set up this spectacle?'" 

The interview also includes some great musings on light: "One of the guiding principals [of putting the show together] has been the fact that this year's Super Bowl is (or was) in the daylight, so that has a big impact on the show because we don't have a darkness or the power of lighting. 

"But we have the greatest light in the world which is, of course, sunlight."

I is for ... On ice

Marketed as a 'Winter Magic Pageant', Gloria Estefan performed at the Super Bowl Half-Time Show in 1992.

The performance also featured giant snowmen and figure skaters Dorothy Hammill and Brian Boitano.

Honestly, can you blame people for switching over to Living In Colour?

She did return to perform in 1999 with Stevie Wonder, mind.

J is for ... Janet Jackson

Because 'nip-slip' or 'x-rated' would be too easy, wouldn't it?

Following in her brother's footsteps, Janet performed with Justin Timberlake at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004.

Jackson's breast, adorned with a nipple shield, was exposed by Justin Timberlake for about half a second, in what was later referred to as a "wardrobe malfunction". 

Thus, the incident was forever immortalised as 'Nipplegate'.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined CBS a record $550,000 which was fought in the Supreme Court, but that fine was appealed and ultimately voided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2011 ruling, and a case to reinstate the fine was refused in 2012.

K is for ... 10K

Races take place across the country to coincide with the big weekend - including one in Redondo Beach, which is celebrating its 39th year.

L is for ... Left Shark

Whatever about Coldplay being overshadowed by Beyoncé, can you imagine being overshadowed by an out-of-time backing dancer dressed as a sea creature? How embarrassing!

Believe it or not, that's exactly what happened to Katy Perry two years ago. She capitalised on the incident though, by releasing Left Shark Onesies, costing over $100.

M is for ... Marching bands

It is no exaggeration to say that between the years of 1967 to 1989, the NFL was big on brass.

It's a blur of college marching bands and Elvis impersonators - with the first Super Bowl being opened by the University of Arizona and University of Michigan marching bands respectively.

What's more American than the Star-Spangled Banner

N is for ... The national anthem

Speaking of - Lady Gaga got her gig this year as a result of her roaring rendition of Star Spangled Banner.

This year's performance comes courtesy of country singer Luke Bryan.

He doesn't just have Gaga's shoes to fill - Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys and the late Whitney Houston all performed the slot previous. 

O is for ... Operation Desert Storm

NBC delayed the coverage of the half-time show until after the game in 1990 to hold news coverage of Operation Desert Storm in its place.

P is for ... Prince

The Purple One's performance is regarded as one of the best in half-time history. 

The Chicago Tribune at the time said: "The energy was frenetic -- and, yes, we got the requisite shots of grinning fans jumping around on the field -- but the whole choreographed thing felt spontaneous while serving as an apt refutation of the lip-sync age.

The abbreviated "Purple Rain" finale may have been inevitable, but if you're going to play the song, you may as well do so when it's pouring. As Prince indulged in some guitar heroics as his silhouette was projected onto a billowing sheet, you had to admit: The dude's got flair."

Image: PA Images

Q is for ... Queen Latifah 

Queen Latifah considers the half-time show a second home, having performed twice at the event.

Most recently, the actress, singer and talk show host went for a low-key rendition of America The Beautiful in 2014.

This year, members of the cast of popular Broadway musical Hamilton will perform the track.

R is for ... Red Hot Chili Peppers

As Bruno Mars' guest at the 2014 half-time show, the band delivered a suitably electric rendition of Give It Away - minus the electricity.

After eagle-eyed viewers spotted that none of the band's instruments were plugged in, bassist Flea was forced to come out and admit that the instrumentals were pre-recorded.

"When we were asked by the NFL and Bruno to play our song Give It Away at the Super Bowl, it was made clear to us that the vocals would be live, but the bass, drums, and guitar would be pre-recorded," Flea wrote on the band's website in the aftermath of the gig. 
"I understand the NFL's stance on this, given they only have a few minutes to set up the stage, there a zillion things that could go wrong and ruin the sound for the folks watching in the stadium and the TV viewers. There was not any room for argument on this, the NFL does not want to risk their show being botched by bad sound, period."
Image: PA Images

S is for ... Super

So what's so super about Super Bowl?

The Super Bowl was created as a result of the merger between the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL).

On June 8th 1966, the AFL-NFL merger was announced, and the winner of each leagues championship game would meet in a final game to determine the world football champion.

AFL founder and Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt jokingly referred to the proposed game as the Super Bowl, after watching a group of kids play with a toy called a "Super Ball." The name was consistent with college "bowl" games, and became the permanent football championship moniker.

The more you know ...

T is for ... Tickets

According to TicketCity, the "Best Seat Period" - if you want to get great sets at a, um, reasonable price (suites not included) -- is to purchase in sections 309/310 or 337/338. That's Club Level Premium, it puts you on the 50-yard line and gives you a perfect view.

  • Price: About $9,000/ticket

If you want to spend a little less money, the "Best Seat Under $5K" is in sections 304, 315, 332 or 343. Those are Club Level Corner seats.

  • Price: About $4,750/ticket

And the "Best Value Seats" are in sections 604, 612, 630 and 638. Tickets there will cost you in the range of $3,000 to sit in one of the Upper Level Sidelines sections.

  • Price: About $3,000/ticket

The cheapest ticket available right now ("Get In The Door Ticket") is an Upper EndZone seat.

  • Price: $2,700/ticket

If you want to go big and don't go home, you can also get a 400-level suite for the low, low cost of $358,000.

Next year lads, yeah?

U is for ... U2

U2's half-time performance in post-9/11 America was met with mixed reviews, as expected.

While the Seattle Times called it "The emotional peak came at half-time", and the Washington Post calling it "strangely affecting", a writer at the Chicago Sun-Times held an opposing opinion.

"A truly great rock band would have taken this moment of unprecedented exposure to offer a thoughtful comment on recent events.

"But the usually verbose Bono didn't even bother with his traditional plea for world peace, choosing to simply flash the stars-and-stripes lining of his Super Bowl jacket instead. U2 never seemed more like a band camouflaging salesman / as sincerity, and cravenness for deep concern," the review reads.

V is for ... Viewership

Last year's Super Bowl 50 drew the third largest in the history of television.

However, it was down on 2015, when 114.4 million people tuned into NBC.

W is for ... The Who

The half-time shows went through a period of hosting middle-aged white men, including English rock-band The Who, performing at the ripe old ages of 65 and 64 respectively.

More than 100 million people tuned in to see the rock legends. However, Rolling Stone readers lodged complaints over the band's sound issues.

Some commentators remarked that their telecast of the performance suffered from a slight delay between sound and visuals. 


X is for ... (E)xtra long 

In a standard game, half-time usually lasts around 12 minutes. For the Super Bowl. 30 minutes is given over to the slot to allow for the construction of and deconstruction of the stage.

Y is for ... Years

Super Bowls aren't indicated by the year they took place, but rather the number of the event since the first one took place. 

They're written in Roman numerals - with last year's Super Bowl 50 being the only exception.

Z is for ... Zzz

Super Bowl LI kicks off at 11:30pm GMT on Sunday night. The game is typically four hours long - so be prepared to be in it for the long haul.


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