The Incredible Impossibility of the Super Bowl Halftime Show

The Incredible Impossibility of the Super Bowl Halftime Show

As you’re making your last minute game-day dip selections and 60-inch TV purchases, there’s a group of brave people who have been prepping for this Super Bowl Sunday since last year.

Spoiler alert: It’s not any member of the Falcons or the Patriots.

No, for these ambitious folks, the game really begins when the players leave the field. It’s halftime.

It’s showtime.

A Logistical Nightmare

The team that puts on the Super Bowl halftime show truly accomplishes something incredible. While normal stage setup for a stadium-size concert usually takes a day or more, the Super Bowl halftime stage is assembled in just minutes – six minutes to be exact.

Decibel Management Superbowl Halftime Show Stopwatch Infographic

According to Charles Coplin, VP of Special Events for the NFL, last year’s Super Bowl XXXVIII (with the halftime show featuring Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars), they had six minutes to bring the stage on and set it up, and six minutes to break it all down. Oh and not to mention, leave the field in pristine condition for the second half of the world’s most prestigious football game.

You see, not only do these incredibly elaborate stage setups have to happen quicker than the time it takes to boil six cups of water, they also have to do so without the help of heavy machinery or motor vehicles. Cranes and trucks could tear up the field or bump a goal post. There is way too much at stake to cause a delay of game due to a rogue rig.

Yeah there really isn’t any room for mistakes. Like zero room. Because when they say that the Super Bowl halftime show is a huge stage, they mean that both literally and figuratively. What happens on that stage will be seen. By millions. Live. (Or maybe with a slight delay to prevent any future “wardrobe malfunctions.”)

In fact, there have been many years when the halftime show actually gets more viewership than the football game itself. This was true for last year’s show. Super Bowl 50, which saw the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers 24-10, had an average viewership of 111.9 million TV viewers. And when was its largest viewership of the night recorded? That’s right. During halftime. 115.5 million TV viewers. And even that’s rounding down.

This count from Nielson doesn’t include out-of-home viewers who went to catch the game at a bar or at their friend’s house. It also doesn’t include online streaming viewers, or the nearly 70,000 fans that filled Levi Stadium.

OK, so the stage has to be setup in six minutes, using predominantly volunteers and virtually no heavy machinery. There can be no damage done to any area of the field. The performance needs to be executed flawlessly – coordinating A-list performers, dancers, lights, sound, props and pyrotechnics – because millions of people will be watching live. And then in another six minutes the stage has to be taken down and everyone tucked back in their seats before halftime ends, with zero damage to the field.     

Oh yeah, and you also have to put on a halftime show that kicks ass.

Pushing a 12-minute Show to the Limit

What truly makes halftime amazing is that even with all of these restrictions, it still has to be an unforgettable show. It still has to astound the audience. It still has to keep us talking about it, comparing it to other halftime shows year after year.

Each Super Bowl halftime show tries to push the envelope a little further. Increase the “WOW” factor just a little more. Let’s look at some examples, shall we?

1993 – Super Bowl XXVII – This is the show that really kicked off the modern halftime extravaganza. In the beginning, Michael Jackson impersonators seemingly morphed from within the digital scoreboards, appearing on top of them to dance high above the stadium. Then, Michael Jackson himself shot up from the stage floor and stared down the audience for a full 90 seconds without moving. A full 90 seconds.

Michael Jackson Performing at Super Bowl Halftime in 1993

A halftime spectacular featuring Michael Jackson wows a SB XXVII crowd of better than 98,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on 1/31/1993. ©Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images Photos (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

1995 – Super Bowl XXIX – Produced by Disney, this performance featured a live-action Indiana Jones skit, complete with 13 professional stuntmen, skydivers, Patti LaBelle, and one guy who got lit on fire (intentionally). While this halftime show received a lot of ridicule, it was the only one to feature stuntmen and live fight scenes – no matter how hokey.

1996 – Super Bowl XXX – The headliner, Diana Ross, had 12 wardrobe changes, and left the stage in a helicopter.

2007 – Super Bowl XLI –  This show featured a remarkable performance by Prince while it actually rained. The pouring rain wasn’t planned, but the show definitely did go on. And it was fucking awesome.

2012 – Super Bowl XLVI – This year had an impressive stage completely outfitted with projection mapping. DWP Live, the projection mapping crew, spent nearly 3 weeks getting things ready in Indianapolis. The stage looked spectacular moving and transforming beneath Madonna and her dancers.

2012 Super Bowl Halftime Show Projection Mapping with Madonna

Photo By: Brad Duns via

Madonna Super Bowl Halftime Show Projection Mapping Stage

Photo By: Brad Duns via

2015 – Super Bowl XLIX – Katy Perry rode in on a GIANT animatronic tiger (that looked like a lion), and then left by flying around the stadium on a star.

This year, we are eagerly awaiting the over-the-top antics of Lady Gaga. Rumor has it she will be performing alone, maybe with a small cameo by Tony Bennett, but we’d love to see some surprise guests. There’s also some high flying rumors that she will perform on top of the stadium, or suspended down from the roof in someway – a rumor she has neither confirmed nor denied. She did, however, say that her stage would be “athletic,” so that sounds fun.

The 2017 halftime show has been designed by Bruce Rogers from Tribe Inc., who has been designing the Super Bowl halftime show for more than a decade. LeRoy Bennett has also joined him this year as a co-production designer. We expect the results from this dynamic duo to be nothing short of legendary.

Will you be tuning in to this year’s 2017 Super Bowl LI halftime show? We’ll be there, and we’ll be live tweeting at @decibelevent so follow us and talk to us to let us know what you think. Bring on the guacamole.

David Sonntag
View All