The Industry Connection

Interview with Seth Dudowsky, Head of Music at the NFL

👋 Warner from The Industry Connection here 👋

🏈 Ever wonder how the Super Bowl Halftime Show is booked and executed? Today we sit down with the NFL’s Head of Music, Seth Dudowsky, who took time out of his crazy week to share some Super Bowl insights. Plus a data-heavy dive into music’s biggest stage.

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Today’s Call Log: Super Bowl By The Numbers

  • $7M - how much each 30-second ad will cost during the Super Bowl, which breaks down to $233,333 per second.

  • $700M - the expected revenue Paramount Global will make from the ads (CBS, who is broadcasting the game is owned by Paramount Global)

  • 115M - the projected number of viewers for this years Super Bowl

  • $50M - the amount Apple Music pays the NFL annually to sponsor the Halftime show

  • $15M - the production budget Artists get for the Halftime show

  • $0 - Usher’s fee… wait what? Let’s dive into why that’s actually a great deal for him.

Each year the Super Bowl attracts some of the biggest talent for their Halftime Show (the interview with Seth below will cover that), but pays their Artists nothing. On top of that, any production cost above the $15M is covered by the Artist. The Weeknd and Dr. Dre reportedly each spent $7M of their own money on their respective productions. But it is still more than worth it to perform.

Ticket Sales:

Usher announced a 24-show arena tour earlier this week. According to StubHub, there is a 50% surge in ticket searches post-performance, and conveniently Usher’s tickets go on sale immediately following the show. The Weeknd sold one million tickets in the 7 days following SB 55, and the Rolling Stones set a record at the time with $558M in ticket revenue after their performance at SB 40.

Streaming Boom:

Artists who play the Halftime show see a spike in their streaming numbers, evident in Justin Timberlake’s 540% increase in streaming after SB 52, Rihanna’s 640% jump (while also charting 17 of her songs in the top 40 on Spotify in the days following SB 57), and Lady Gaga’s 1,000% streaming boost after SB 51. Usher is releasing his new Album “Coming Home” tomorrow, timed perfectly with his performance.

Exposure, Exposure, Exposure:

Exposure = new fans. Well at least for Jennifer Lopez & Shakira who each gained 3 million new followers on IG after SB 54. Rihanna took advantage of the 113M fans and 226M eyeballs on her by ~checking her makeup~ during the performance, which earned her brand Fenty over $44M in EMV (earned media value), and secured its best-ever monthly performance during February of last year.

Conclusion: The Super Bowl Halftime Show is the best marketing play in all of music.

Interview with Seth Dudowsky, Head of Music at the NFL

AvA: How did you get involved in the business side of music? 

Dudowsky: I was a sport management major at UMass, I played high school football and wanted to work in player personnel after graduating. But once I realized what the life of a scout looked like, very quickly I decided that it wasn't for me. My focus shifted towards media, and I started working at my college radio station WMUA. 

At that point I was focused on getting an internship at the sports station WFAN in New York, but I wasn't able to get any response from them. I was home for spring break, so I decided to just go to the studio. I bought a $2 MetroCard, took the subway out to Queens, walked in the building when security stopped me and asked “Is your name on the list?” I was like “oh, yeah, I have a job interview here” which I didn't. The guard called down, told them my name, hung up, and said “they have no idea who you are, but they told me to send you down.”

It was Mike Francesa and Chris Russo (Mad Dog) sitting in the newsroom, they asked my name and said “let's see if we can find you somebody to talk to.” They did, and I left with an internship that day. To this day I have no idea who it was on the other end of the phone, but that person changed my life forever.

AvA: How did you end up working at the NFL?

Dudowsky: After I graduated college I started working at ESPN in the Statistics department logging box scores. I took that job purely so I can get my foot in the door because I knew I wanted to work in tv programming. Within a few months I was working in the International Programming department at ESPN, and the next five years I spent learning everything possible about live production, rights and acquisitions, and how to run television networks while working on broadcasts for pretty much every type of sport in the world.

My two favorite pastimes are going to live sports, and seeing live music. Living in Bristol, Connecticut, unfortunately I could do neither without leaving the state. So when I got the opportunity to relocate to LA and work at NFL Network, I took it. I didn’t come for the job, I just wanted to be able to go to concerts on a weeknight or to a Dodger game anytime I wanted. 

My first job here was scheduling NFL Network programming, but my department was NFLN Programming and Media Events, which meant the live specials including the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Very quickly I was able to see what happens behind the scenes of the world’s biggest live performance, and that was my entry into the music industry. I've now been at the NFL for over 10 years, with Usher being my eleventh halftime show being a part of. Starting with Bruno Mars’ show, I could’ve never predicted what the next decade would look like.

AvA: What has been your primary focus as Head of Music for the NFL? 

Dudowsky: I oversee the performance bookings for any of the league controlled events, those primarily being the Super Bowl, Draft, Kickoff, and our International games. All of the teams control their own home game experiences, but I’m a resource for all 32 clubs in their music efforts, including working closely with the teams on Thanksgiving and supporting the music functions across all NFL media platforms especially on rights and clearances. Aside from continuing to elevate what we do as a league in the music space and how we work with artists both on the performance and using their music in our content, my main focus has been to make sure we’re maximizing opportunities across all the various league stakeholders, platforms and partners as we navigate the ever-evolving world of music rights. I want to make sure we’re unlocking every opportunity across the NFL ecosystem to ultimately help artists and their music reach as many of our fans as possible. 

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY SCHERER / GETTY IMAGES

AvA: Can you talk about the Artist selection process for the Super Bowl Halftime show, and the considerations that went into selecting Usher as the Halftime performer at SB LVIII in Vegas?

Dudowsky: For any event we work on we start with talking about what our goals are for a performance or for an event overall. We want to be as culturally relevant as we can, with considerations like what the event is, where it is located, who the audience is. We also look at what’s happening in culture at that time. Are we in a celebratory moment, or is it a time for us to be somber or reflective? Are there specific genres, artists, or a movement that we should be focusing on? We look at all of those different factors depending on the various types of performance opportunities we have throughout the year.

 When it comes to the Super Bowl Halftime Show, Jay-Z is the most important voice in the selection process. We partnered with Roc Nation a little over four years ago as Executive Producers for the Halftime show among many other ways they support the league. Jay Z and Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez are leading voices for us in terms of how we look at culture, artists and music on our biggest stages. So when you talk about the Super Halftime selection process, it really begins with them.  

The Super Bowl Halftime Show by definition is for everybody. So when you get to that size of an audience, we’re talking about artists that everyone has heard their music and have a level of respect that transcends any one song. And with Usher, he’s been a cultural stalwart for 30 years not to mention an incredible showman. Re-inventing his legacy with his Vegas residency only adds to why this year is the perfect stage for him.

AvA: Are you working on any new exciting opportunities for the NFL? 

Dudowsky: I think a lot of the opportunities for new types of content is with the sync and music supervision side of my role. I’m focused on having content live across as many platforms as possible, and ultimately that comes down to the intricacies of music rights, especially on social platforms. As the rights associated with these different platforms continue to evolve, we need to get out in front of content plans as much as possible to unlock rights in advance to make sure that things we're doing on-site can be captured and used in the best way on our broadcast partners and across social media. 

If a team wants to have an artist lead their players out of the tunnel with a performance, or if a team has a song become their anthem that plays in stadium and we want to be able to showcase that outside of the live moment, well then we need to get in front of it and get the music cleared so that we can extend the life of the moments that include music we know will resonate with fans. When we know a player is going to walk across the Draft stage and hug the commissioner after his name is called, that’s a special moment the player and their team want to be able to post as widely as possible, so we better make sure that the music playing behind them is something that we have rights to across our platforms. Music can define an experience or piece of content, but it’s also the fastest way to stop content from being able to be shared as widely as possible if you don’t plan for it properly.

AvA: What does the creative process look like for the Halftime show?

Dudowsky: One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from former NFL Media President Steve Bornstein was that everyone in entertainment is looking for a formula. Everybody wants something that on paper tells them that “this plus this equals a hit,” and rarely does that work. The only formula that actually does work, or at least has the best shot of working, is to bring in the best creative talent, give them firm parameters, and then give them the space to do what they do best. 

Our goal is to put on the biggest best version of the Super Bowl Halftime Show that’s the truest representation of the artist’s creative vision that also fits within the confines of what it takes to play the most important football game of the season. We work for many many months before we have an artist to fully understand all the limitations and restrictions that are unique to each stadium, and from there I empower our team to be as creative and ambitious as possible as long as they can play within those lines.

Once we all agree on the goal we're working towards, then we can debate the solutions. As long as we all stay focused on the target we need to hit, I know we’ll get there. If you have an amazingly creative idea, but it doesn't work within the confines of the Super Bowl, we can't do it. But if you have an outlandish idea that seems really out there, but we show that it can be executed without impacting the game, the fans or the broadcast, then let's go do it. And that’s how we ended up with Rihanna performing 70 feet above the ground… 

EZRA SHAW / GETTY IMAGES

AvA: Who are some of your favorite Artists right now? 

Dudowsky: In terms of albums from this past year, Fred Again.. Labrinth, Janelle Monáe have probably been my most listened to. Tame Impala, Jungle and Parcels are a few of my favorites from the indie side. From a rock perspective, Jack White, Gary Clark Jr. and The Black Keys are go to’s. I grew up in northern New Jersey in the 90s, so Jay Z, Nas and Biggie are icons for me. J. Cole is operating at as high of a level as anybody in music right now. I’m a huge fan of the Weeknd, Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa too. 

It's such a tough question, it's like asking what food do you eat?

AvA: What is one piece of advice you have for someone just getting started in their career? 

Dudowsky: It's easy to want to see things happen overnight. But sustained small steps in the right direction over a long period of time is the best way to get to where you want to go. I was once told that if you get 1% better every day, after one year you’ll be 37 times better than you were a year ago. So many people set a goal, chase that goal, and until they’ve gotten the outcome they want they haven’t succeeded. 

But if you set a goal, then create a plan, something you can take action on to get one step closer every day, then every day you can get a win. You can almost forget that goal, and just focus on the plan. If you have a good plan, you don’t have to worry about it. You will get there, eventually.

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