How Sports & Live Music Combine To Create Slam-Dunk Experiences

Rock N’ Sports:
Duane Prokop / Getty Images
– Rock N’ Sports:
Machine Gun Kelly performs after the final round of the 2021 NFL Draft at the Great Lakes Science Center on May 1, 2021 in Cleveland.

As the live industry eagerly gears up to finally welcome in-person tours back on the road this summer and fall, the sports world has already began hosting kick-ass musical performances, giving artists greater exposure and opportunities on stage to do what they do best.    

J Balvin got the party started before 15,000 fans at the Canelo Álvarez vs. Avni Yildirim fight Feb. 27 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Introducing his friend Álvarez to the crowd, as the Colombian superstar singer’s backup dancers swayed back and forth and pyro burst in the air, Balvin created an atmosphere that was both festive and intimidating. The Prince of Reggaeton continued to hype up the Mexican boxing champion while walking him out to the ring while debuting “Ma’G,” the new single from his upcoming album. 
While the fight was quickly over with Álvarez defending his title and forcing Yildirim to quit after just three rounds, what really stands out from the night was J Balvin’s ultimate ring entrance song. 
“The collision of music and sports continues to occupy an important place in the entertainment ecosystem,” says WME partner Rob Markus – who is part of J Balvin’s music team along with Ben Totis and Richard Lom.  
 “High profile sporting events such as the Super Bowl, NBA All-Star weekend, the WWE and major UFC events attract huge attention from music fans and offer great platforms for music stars to amplify their messages.  
“J Balvin performing his new single at the Canelo fight took things to the next level! It was more than just a performance at a sporting event – Balvin’s high energy performance became a key part of the overall experience!”   
J Balvin takes the stage
Rich Graessle / PPI/Icon Sportswire / Getty Images
– J Balvin takes the stage
with Jennifer Lopez at the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show during Super Bowl LIV in February 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. He returned to the venue Feb. 27 to perform ahead of the Canelo Alvarez vs. Avni Yildirim fight.
A year earlier, Balvin and Bad Bunny took the stage at the same venue as special guests at the Super Bowl LIV halftime show in Miami Gardens, Fla., headlined by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. 
Though COVID-19 protocols limited the capacity for Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., to 25,000 and traditional events taking place during Super Bowl week were reduced, the return of the Big Game in February – including the spectacle of The Weeknd’s halftime show – were a welcome salve for a country in need of something to celebrate and a bit of a return to normalcy. 
The event’s musical attractions included H.E.R. showing off her take on “America the Beautiful” and a duet performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Eric Church (see page 20) and Jazmine Sullivan. Ahead of the game, Miley Cyrus headlined the TikTok Tailgate, a pre-game concert for health care workers with guest appearances by Joan Jett and Billy Idol. 
Following a virtual event in 2020 – the first in NFL history – the NFL draft returned to the road for a three-day event April 29 to May 1 in Cleveland with a stage constructed near FirstEnergy Stadium and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The event featured performances from Black Pumas, Kings of Leon and Machine Gun Kelly. 
“Sports and music share an innate ability to tap into fans’ passions in a way that feels uniquely personal, so we try to find opportunities for clients that encompass both forms of entertainment,” says UTA agent Matt Meyer, who booked Machine Gun Kelly’s performance at the 2021 NFL Draft Concert Series. 
“The NFL specifically targeted MGK for the draft since it took place in his hometown of Cleveland, where he has always been embraced as a fan favorite and is a role model to aspiring artists in the city. The deal was particularly organic since he is friendly with many of the Browns players, including Baker Mayfield.”
MGK just announced a fall tour that kicks off Sept. 9 at The Armory in Minneapolis and concludes Dec. 18 at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the Cavaliers.
Of course, the intersection of music and sports is nothing new, from DJs pumping up the crowds at NBA games to the Indy 500 Snake Pit concert that have taken place on race day since 2011. 
Just look at how long the “Star-Spangled Banner” has been played at baseball games – reportedly as early as 1897 during opening day ceremonies for baseball in Philadelphia. The song is now a part of just about every major league sport, performed before “all MLS, NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL games (with at least one American team involved), as well as in a pre-race ceremony portion of every NASCAR race,” according to Forbes. Since the 1960s the Super Bowl’s halftime show featured primarily marching bands and performance ensembles until pop stars took over in the early 1990s starting with New Kids on the Block headlining Super Bowl XXV.
But the return of fan-filled sporting events – including musical performances – is significant in the live industry’s return after the pandemic halted in-person gatherings. 
“Music and sports are connected to each other. There are no concerts at full capacities until sports opens up to full capacities,” AGI Chairman Dennis Arfa told Pollstar. 
Arfa’s longtime client Billy Joel just announced a headline performance at the Formula 1 Aramco United States Grand Prix on Oct. 23 at Circuit of The Americas’ Germania Insurance Super Stage in Austin, Texas.
Joel and sports just make sense together. He has confirmed dates on the books for summer and fall 2021, as well as spring 2022, including rescheduled baseball and football stadium gigs from his 2020 tour, marking his seventh straight year of touring stadiums. The big baseball fan is also Madison Square Garden’s first-ever music franchise alongside sports teams such as the New York Knicks and Rangers.
Previous artists who have performed during the Grand Prix include Pink, Imagine Dragons, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Britney Spears, and Sir Elton John.
John Parra / Getty Images
– D-Nice
is set to perform at Preakness 146’s Preakness LIVE at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore May 15. He’s pictured playing at 1/ST Preakness Home Drive-InField Fest on May 16, 2020, in Hallandale, Fla.
Over in the world of horse racing, 1/ST – the owners of the Preakness Stakes – and 1/ST EXPERIENCE will get the chance to host a full circle moment with D-Nice performing at Preakness LIVE on May 15 at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course as part of Preakness 146. 
The legendary DJ, who has kept spirits high during the pandemic with his livestreaming #ClubQuarantine sets on Instagram, performed in May 2020 at 1/ST Preakness At Home’s Drive-InfieldFest, the nation’s first full-scale, socially distant drive-in concert. The event was held at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., exclusively for first responders and livestreamed to the rest of the world on YouTube.
Now D-Nice will once again team up with Preakness for his biggest in-person performance since the pandemic began. Preakness LIVE will also feature sets from 2 Chainz and Jack Harlow. 
The event will observe COVID protocols and reduced capacity with Preakness 146 weekend hosting 10,000 fans and the concert portion capped at 4,000. First responders and frontline workers will once again be celebrated with the front rows of the event reserved for these heroes. Tickets are available now, featuring socially distanced pods for groups of eight. D-Nice will also livestream on his Instagram and excerpts of Preakness LIVE performances will be shown on NBC during the live race day broadcast.
“This year it’s like here’s what it was meant to be. It was meant to be Derrick (D-Nice) in the field celebrating Preakness and everything that goes with it,” Jimmy Vargas, chief executive officer of 1/ST EXPERIENCE, told Pollstar. “We had to scale it back within the COVID protocols as of now. We wanted to do it in a safe way. But just show how we take steps towards what Preakness and InfieldFest is at its full capacity.”
InfieldFest celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019 and has previously hosted artists including Post Malone, Odesza, 21 Savage, Kygo, Diplo, and the late Juice WRLD. 
Vargas explains that adding music to the event easily enhanced the experience, in part because of how race day rolls out from a scheduling standpoint. 
“There’s about 12 to 13 races on any given race card, which usually lasts about three minutes each,” Vargas says. “And then there’s plenty of downtime in between. And so what we realized is as we started to reach a new consumer, a bit of a younger consumer that’s been attracted to the sport, they wanted something that enhanced and complemented the entire race experience. So that down time in between races just served as a natural fit to plug with experiences like music or various forms of entertainment so it can just keep the momentum going while you reach the next race.”
Vargas adds, “When you talk about sports, music, entertainment, it’s part of the excitement of whatever that particular sport is. People want to celebrate. They want to party – whether they win or whether they lose. (laughs) At the end of the day it’s like you’re either partying in celebration or you’re partying to forget that maybe your favorite team lost or that the bet you put on your favorite horse didn’t make it. But ultimately it’s just part of the excitement of being within any of these venues these days.”