Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s infamous 2004 Super Bowl halftime show performance stunned millions, sparked national debate and helped YouTube find its footing in an increasingly digital world.
It also kindled new corporate interest in the 30-minute extravaganza. Officials at Ameriquest Mortgage Co., a now-defunct subprime lender, saw a golden opportunity to increase their brand awareness—and bought the following year’s sponsorship rights.
The NFL took a safer route for the halftime show that next year with Paul McCartney, whose performance was viewed by tens of millions, more than a few of whom were considering a mortgage loan. With its brand plastered on the show, plus two 30-second ad spots, Ameriquest saw a 30% jump in direct mail response rate for the company, which was later bought by Citigroup (NYSE: C).
Eighteen years later, the Super Bowl intermission will have a new presenting sponsor, after PepsiCo. (NASDAQ: PEP) opted to renew its NFL sponsorship without the halftime show rights included. Those rights are now up for grabs, and the new sponsor could pay more than double the $15 million Ameriquest shoveled out for its deal.
“There’s a lot more money washing around than there used to be when trying to build a brand,” former Ameriquest executive vice president Kevin Morefield said. “It used to just be beer, Pepsi and AOL. Everybody realizes [the Super Bowl] is a place where you make your brand now.”
The next sponsor could be jumping in at an opportune time, after 29 million households tuned into watch Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Eminem steal the show this year. The nostalgic hip-hop production helped make the 2022 version of the big game the most watched in five years, with 112 million viewers on average.
The rights auction brings up some multimillion-dollar questions: What company wants the rights, and who stars in the show? Will one of the top cryptocurrency companies make a splash for the rights or will it turn back to a recognizable legacy brand? And what kind of artist would the winning bidder desire to reach their target consumer base?
Luminate, an entertainment analytics company that tracks industry data, partnered with Sportico to compile lists of artists who would be well-received for halftime performances based on age and gender.
The headlining performer for next year’s Super Bowl won’t be announced until later this year, but the next sponsor will likely want at least some input on the final decision.
“Generally, we’re looking for global superstars with a catalog of hits and dynamic performance ability,” an NFL spokesman said. “Ideally their fanbase would encompass a broad range of demographics and is capable of providing a show that can unify as many different ages, races and orientations as possible.”
Pepsi, which has a long history of collaborating with musicians from Michael Jackson to Beyoncé, may regain the rights again one day. Even if not, the company went out with a bang, with help from Roc Nation. As the NFL deals with harsh criticism of its record on racial issues, including the cases of Brian Flores and Colin Kaepernick, the knee-dropping halftime performance was both sweet-sounding and culturally relevant—something the league aims for when choosing performers.
Despite that success, Pepsi and the NFL couldn’t come to an agreement as the price for the rights escalates.
“With everybody, it runs its cycle,” said Phil Pasci, the former longtime vice president of sports marketing for Bridgestone Americas, which owned the halftime show rights from 2008 to 2012. “After so many years, I’m sure [Pepsi] saw a big lift, and then all of a sudden, they saw either a plateau or started to actually see numbers trail off. It’s very cyclical.”
Bridgestone saw a strong boost in its unaided and aided brand awareness from its previous deal. But like Pepsi, the Nashville-based company ultimately decided to spend its marketing dollars elsewhere while remaining an NFL sponsor.
Depending on the deal structure, Pasci still believes owning the rights is worth the investment for a company looking to establish brand recognition in a competitive space. “Even though the Super Bowl is one day, the halftime show gets big play all throughout the year,” he said. “It was basically a 365-day sponsorship that peaked at the halftime show.”