Fighter pilots and avatars may have brought movie theaters back to normal in 2022 and 2023 but life will never be the same for theaters as we know them.
With the wide release of “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” crowds have returned to cinemas nationwide – which is good news, no matter how you look at it.
But even before COVID, movie theaters were looking for ways to widen their appeal and their audience. They became venues for broadcasting boxing matches, cheer tournaments and esports competition.
Back in 2019, for example, An article in The Esports Observer stated that Super League Gaming had partnered with NetLevel, a company that installed high-speed fiber networks at movie theaters for esports competitions and events. The deal more than tripled the number of movie theaters that could host Super League Gaming’s amateur tournaments.
One of the advantages, the article noted, was that by hosting esports events, theater owners and managers could take advantage of non-peak viewing times, creating a win/win situation, economic impact-wise.
As far back as 2014, cheer competitions were being broadcast in theaters. In 2022, UFC announced it had renewed its partnership with Iconic Events Releasing, which works with movie theaters nationwide to host PPV fights. Fathom Events was hosting boxing in local theaters in late 2022 and that trend is expected to continue. (In fact, it was Fathom who led the charge, hosting not only cheer and boxing but motor sports, football and soccer).
And when you think about it, what’s not to like? Private theaters generally have free parking, provide concessions, offer rest rooms and other conveniences and are ADA-compliant. They’re weather-safe, secure and have reliable HVAC. And they're everywhere.
According to an article in the L.A. Times, it’s part of a larger trend: “Along with improved food offerings, bigger screens and 3-D projections, theaters nationwide are programming more so-called alternative content. Hoping to reverse long-term declines in theater attendance by luring customers away from an increasing array of entertainment options in the home, they're showing live rock concerts, plays, operas, boxing matches, college basketball games and even public radio shows, often to sold-out houses.”
Advantages of hosting broadcasts of events included the opportunity to invite local team and club organizations in those sports to host watch parties in the theater (thereby increasing attendance and economic impact) and freeing such groups from the responsibility of working out the logistics and expense of renting equipment and doing their own livestreaming (thereby decreasing the work on the part of the team or club). Theaters built excitement around events; for example, with the NFinity Champions Cheerleading Event, participants were encouraged to use the hashtag, #CheerNightOut.
"We want theaters to be community centers, where people can come hang out and enjoy themselves and not just watch a movie," said Robert Lenihan, president of programming at AMC Entertainment Inc. "If we can offer better and fresher experiences, we think they will visit the theater more often."
And as the Esports Observer also noted, why wouldn’t any young person select a high-end movie theater with reclining reserved seats (perfect for gathering a group of club members), rather than folding or stacking chairs? The article notes,
“Whether you want to talk about millennials, the on-demand economy or any other buzz-worthy topic, a clear common thread is the proliferation of entertainment options at everyone’s fingertips, which puts more pressure on any live-event business to create the best possible experience for attendees. And while we are seeing these seating and amenity improvements primarily in what we’d consider the “premium” locations of arenas and stadiums, maybe we need to think more about the rest of the building too … We need to constantly push ourselves to deliver a greater level of comfort and pleasure across every section, row and seat in the house; otherwise, it may end up being a pretty empty house.”
Count on other venues to tie in as well. Super League Gaming further expanded its reach by partnering with Topgolf for amateur tournaments at its venues, as well as partnering with ggCircuit to provide tournament programs to affiliated LAN center operators.