Madonna released the song "Material Girl" in 1985, and she's spent the intervening time proving the moniker true. She earned $58 million in 2010 and grossed $280 million on her last tour, averaging $6 million in nightly ticket sales.
But when Madonna performs her Super Bowl XVLI half-time set, she won’t be earning a penny. Why? Same reason the Black Eyed Peas didn’t get paid for theirs last year halftime show acts perform for free.
"Typically, the entertainers for the Super Bowl do not get a cash payment," explains Marc Ganis, president of the consultancy Sportscorp Ltd.
"This is the kind of exposure that entertainers would give their right arm for … they could do 20 Leno and Letterman appearances and still not reach that [kind of] audience."
Indeed, Madonna has plenty to gain from doing the show for free. Her new album, MDNA, is scheduled for release in March; she is expected perform its first single at the Super Bowl with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.
The film W.E., which the singer produced and directed, opens in the U.S. this week. And, to top it all off, Madonna will announce dates for her upcoming world tour after the game.
No other vehicle provides a platform to entertain the nation on a day they want to be entertained," says Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.
"Sunday we'll be reminded that before there was Gaga there was Madonna. It is clear the Material Girl still wants a piece of the action."
So how much is that action worth? Considering that the halftime show is essentially a nationwide advertisement for Madonna's various ventures, let's evaluate it in the context of what companies pay for commercial time during the game.
Volkswagen recently paid $3.5 million for a 30-second spot, a new record. By that math, Madonna’s 12 minutes are worth $84 million.
If an advertiser actually wanted to buy 12 minutes of Super Bowl commercial time, of course, there might be a bulk discount available. Then again, there might be a premium for buying continuous chunks of time. At any rate, any such calculations are pure conjecture, as it seems highly unlikely that a company would ever want to dish out that much for a single event.
There are other perks. Though Madonna and other halftime acts don’t receive a performance fee, they receive plenty of goodies on top of the free advertising. They don't have to pay for backup dancers, pyrotechnics, load-in, load-out, etc —expenses that can add up to $5-$10 million for a show like Madonna's. They also receive free transportation and accommodation for their entourages.
Then there are the extra opportunities offered by the days preceding the Super Bowl, including free publicity and a plethora of parties during the week-long lead-up to the game.
Though Usher joined the Black Eyed Peas as an unpaid halftime performer last year, he is said to have received $1 million to perform at a DirecTV event before the game.
Given all these benefits, playing the Super Bowl halftime show for free is more than worth the trouble. In fact, it's incredibly lucrative–and such a good deal for artists that some suspect a major change might be on the horizon.
"They get so much out of it," says Ganis. "Frankly, it wouldn’t shock me if, someday, the entertainers end up paying the NFL."