The industry term for or a blockbuster movie franchise is a “tentpole”—it’s the asset that holds the whole operation up. At the height of mass culture, in the second half of the 20th century, it was enough to be on television to command an audience in the tens of millions. But as channels multiplied, the difference between those properties that could command such audiences and those that merely gathered under the shelter they provided began to fall into relief. Tentpoles are harder and harder to find in the movie business today, and those that do exist are as frequently a result of 3D ticket prices as they are of any organic appeal. In music, too, a few big stars give life enough for a universe of micro-ecologies where many artists barely make a living. Against this backdrop the NFL stands out as the last fortress of mass culture. Today, nothing is watched by everybody, but the thing that comes closest is the NFL.

This power was on display in its demand that this year’s Super Bowl halftime performer pay the NFL for the privilege, in the form of cash now and a percentage of tour revenues later. All three of the finalists—Rihanna, Coldplay and Katy Perry—refused, and apparently Perry was chosen anyway. But the message was clear: No show is bigger than the NFL, not the biggest pop star, nothing.

Stephen Squibb writing for n+1 about the problems plaguing the NFL.

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