As he spoke, Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports seemed as polished as he was deliberate. He was asked to discuss Beyonce’s impact and appeal leading up to her performance at the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, at a press conference at CBS Studios in Manhattan.
“The NFL actually procures the talent for the halftime broadcast with our input,” he started, “and I think when Beyonce was mentioned, all of us on the call including Les … when we got the call about Beyonce all enthusiastically said, ‘Yes, it would be great if you could get her.’
That’s when Leslie Moonves — who could not resist — interrupted.
“I actually wanted Janet Jackson,” he quipped, backhandedly referring to the 2004 performance when an alleged wardrobe malfunction exposed one of her breasts. The room broke up in laughter. McManus sheepishly tried to contextualize his bosses’ joke, but no one seemed quite ready to move on.
“I think we were all thinking, ‘No one’s going to say that’,” said McManus.
“I couldn’t help it,” Moonves fired back. “The Supreme Court finally threw the case out.”
While the humorous exchange signaled a collective sigh of relief since the Supreme Court in June 2012 relieved CBS of an FCC-imposed fine of more than a half-million dollars, it perhaps paled in comparison to the level of optimism surrounding the 15-minute performance this year by one of the biggest stars on the planet.
Said McManus: “I think when you have the kind of star that we have this year, I don’t think you’ll see any fall off in the rating when she’s performing.”
Publically, McManus had his poker face on, determined not to overstate the halftime show’s impact on the broadcast, and predictably declining to give overall projections about ratings. But if the game is poker McManus and CBS are sitting pretty with a royal flush. With well over a dozen CBS shows broadcasting live from New Orleans throughout Super Bowl week, Beyonce’s performance is a rare occurrence of non-football news rivaling the game in scope and impact. For many viewers, that fact is bigger than the game itself.
Not lost on CBS is the following: Close to 43 million women watched last year’s Super Bowl, and an estimated 114 million people watched the halftime show itself.
“It’s everything for us,” says celebrity insider Kevin Frazier, host of OMG! Insider. “Usually with a regular football game and when halftime hits, everyone walks away. But the Super Bowl, when halftime hits, people gather toward the TV. Even if they weren’t paying attention to the game, they’ll tune in. Because everybody wants to see the halftime performance. It’s rated as highly as the game.”
Television and business analysts faltered when they categorized the NFL’s landing of Beyonce as the league “going young.” It was a decision to go with superstardom.
“She very well could be the greatest entertainer of our time,” Frazier offered. “And people forget that sometimes because they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s the girl from Destiny’s Child’ because they watched her grow up. She’s a dancer, a real singer and a performer. It’ll be incredible, but sometimes you don’t understand greatness when you’re watching it.”
The performance will come off the heels of Beyonce’s unprecedented $50 million dollar deal with Pepsi Co. The brand, which is presenting the performance, is said to be crowdsourcing photos for the performance, and reportedly selecting 50 dancers to appear with her on stage.