What’s up with all the live concerts at sporting events?

by | Mar 13, 2024 | Opinion, Sports

It seems like every all-star game or special game in sports seems to have some level of live entertainment these days. 

Sure, live concerts at sporting events are a great way to fill the space in breaks between action; the Super Bowl is a great example. It is one of the most watched programs year after year and arguably, the halftime show is a significant selling point for many casual fans who aren’t football fans to tune in for the game. And I mean, why wouldn’t you want to watch the halftime show? A performance by one of the best music industry artists performing at the largest stage in North American sports would get anyone excited about an event. However, despite a significantly smaller budget than the Super Bowl, the NFL and other leagues haven’t stopped attempting – and failing – to bring the Super Bowl halftime show concept to their events.

In 2023, the NFL brought out three artists (Jack Harlow, Dolly Parton and Steve Aoki) for their triple header of games on American Thanksgiving. In their mind, it was an opportunity to expand their audience and give performers a stage. “When you look at what these two games do in terms of viewership — compared to anything else on television — we knew that these platforms really are unique opportunities for artists,” said Seth Dudowsky, the NFL’s head of music, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

And I don’t blame them for trying. The game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants onNovember 12 averaged 42 million viewers – the most watched regular season NFL game in 2023. Adding a halftime show could generate more interest from casual viewers and increase league revenue. However, despite the large viewership, the experiments have mostly backfired and usually bring in low-rated fan reviews, with some labelling Jack Harlow’s performance in Detroit this season “the all-time worst Thanksgiving halftime show.” 

It’s not just the NFL, either. The NCAA has experimented with halftime shows, with several artists headlining college football games through early January for their final games of the season. The results were far worse than anticipated. For the Texas vs Oklahoma State Big 12 Conference game in January, Nelly performed at halftime. Nelly is a great artist, and I love some of his songs, but that stadium was lifeless while Nelly performed. Finding someone who looked like they were paying attention, let alone enjoying the show, would have been a challenge. 

twitter screenshot
via X/Twitter @real_marcos_A7

There are three main issues with event performances that result in a sub-par product and take away from fan experience. Firstly, the stage placement is usually in the middle of the field, making it hard for the artist to connect with the audience and recreate a concert atmosphere. Secondly, finding a relevant artist well-received by the entire audience can be challenging, and when organizations have small budgets for effects or sound quality, it’s a recipe for disaster. Finally, most artists available for these events are far past their prime in popularity. You have to know your audience to appeal to them, and it seems like in many of these cases, the organizers don’t.

Despite the overwhelming number of poor performances, there have been some great shows at sports events. Nickelback at the 2023 NHL Heritage Classic was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. But, for every outstanding performance, about four or five terrible performances also come to mind – Fergie singing the US national anthem at the 2018 NBA All-Star game is certainly up there for me. 

But it’s not the artist you should blame for these lackluster events. Most performances are ruined by circumstances beyond their control, like cost, finding the right artist, and venue restrictions. Leagues like the NFL or NCAA are trying to boost viewership and copy the concept of the Super Bowl halftime show, but it’s usually underwhelming or cliche. 

And this is not the artist or group’s performing fault. If the artist is forced into a poor situation where they can’t replicate the atmosphere of a concert at the event, their reputation will suffer because of the organization’s lackluster event. 

Sometimes, I love the collaboration between sports and music, but not when it comes at the expense of the rest of the event atmosphere. Everyone loves the Superbowl because it only comes once a year; sometimes, events need to have their own identity. Not everything needs to be the Super Bowl.

Cover photo via NFL

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