There’s been a broad-based freakout in media circles the last couple days due to the NFL’s alleged plan to hock the rights to perform at halftime of the Super Bowl, possibly in exchange for a slice of the performer’s touring revenue for the next year or so, the names most prominently tied to the pitch being Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Coldplay. Let’s ignore completely the question of whether Katy Perry, Rihanna, or Coldplay is a good idea for the Super Bowl halftime.

I’ve been amazed at the negative feedback I’ve heard from my media friends. There is, after all, this little thing called capitalism.

If you held the keys to the most valuable single day in all of sports, if not entertainment, you’d want to pull every single penny, dime, or million dollars out of it that you could too.

That having been said, the NFL’s idea – if real – is colossally stupid.

Why? It’s as simple as 1-2-3.

  1. An A+ talent like, say, Coldplay would cough up a chunk of their annual concert haul because…why? Sure, they’d get a ton of valuable promotion from the Super Bowl appearance, but considering how well the band is doing already – $171 million in concert gross in 2012 (when they last toured) – do you think they’d be willing to share a chunk of their earnings with anyone absent an absolute guaranteed return on that investment? As a lawyer, I can see drafting the contract clause that provides the League with a percentage of, say, their 2015 touring revenue that is greater than 2012 revenue. That just leads to a little problem: any artist’s touring revenue is a function of so many things from year-to-year – number and type of dates scheduled, album release schedules, ticket prices, etc. – that it would be silly to attempt to assess the payoff from a Super Bowl halftime performance on a superstar’s touring revenue. The likelihood of any superstar agreeing to a proposed rev share seems, to put it diplomatically, exceptionally limited.
  2. Given that reality, the NFL would end up with B-, or more likely, C-level talent playing at the Super Bowl. Would that damage the franchise? No…but yes. The Super Bowl is about as bulletproof as any entertainment property in this country. (If last year’s Super Bowl were the 48th edition of a film franchise, #49 would have been placed in turnaround so fast, it would have made Roger Goodell’s head spin. In reality Super Bowl XLIX will do a reliable 110+ million domestic viewers.) If the value of your franchise is built in part on being the single biggest spectacle of the year, would you want to take away from the spectacle by booking B- or C-level halftime talent? I think not. Better to host a salute to Almost 50 Years Of Great Super Bowl TV Commercials.
  3. Bonus issue: Whether or not she coughs up money to play the Super Bowl – and at $141.9 million in concert gross last year, why would she? – does the NFL want to book the woman who starred in this video? Really? Perhaps it’s been long enough since 2004’s Janet Jackson fiasco, and perhaps the League has played it safe long enough, that it’s feeling a little edgy in 2014. (BTW, trivia note for my radio friends: Nipplegate did not start 2004’s indecency crackdown. The FCC had begun the process six days earlier when it released this little number.)

Here’s the real bottom line: there’s nothing wrong with the NFL attempting to sell the rights to perform in the Super Bowl halftime show because capitalism.

That having been said, if you own a valuable entertainment franchise, and you’re faced with the choice between (1) squeezing every red cent out of it that you can or (2) protecting the franchise so you can continue pulling cash out of it for eons to come, it’s one helluva gamble to go with the former instead of the latter, and the potential payoff better justify the risk you’re taking.

If you own the biggest sports entertainment franchise of all, you operate in a world where a couple million dollars is pocket change. In that case, the risk doesn’t justify selling off the Super Bowl halftime show.

Memo to entertainment purveyors everywhere: unless you’re going out of business and soon, when you think about how to exploit your product, protect its long-term value. The alternative is what’s happening in many less-than-thriving media circles today.

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