When Sports Are Shown in Neighborhood Movie Theaters, Everyone Wins | Sports Destination Management

When Sports Are Shown in Neighborhood Movie Theaters, Everyone Wins

Apr 25, 2024 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Here’s a novel idea: For those who can’t make it to a sports event in person, why not widen the audience by allowing people to view the competition at their local movie theater?

If it sounds crazy, consider this. Bringing the action to your neighborhood theater means not only more people consuming sports but allowing those people a venue with accessibility, restrooms and refreshments. Oh, and increased economic impact overall. Theaters are weather-safe, secure and have reliable HVAC, as well as dependable Wi-Fi. And they're everywhere.

This summer, for example, a number of AMC Movie Theaters will offer showings of events held during the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Under its agreement with NBCUniversal, roughly 160 AMC theaters across the country will get portions of NBC’s live daytime Olympics coverage over a roughly two-week span to ticket and exhibit, according to a press release from the Comcast-owned media company. The showings will kick off July 27, the day after the opening ceremony of the Games, and conclude Aug. 11.

"When you think about the movie theater industry, it’s a dirty little secret that the industry only sells about 15% of our tickets," AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron told reporters. "And there has to be ways to create alternate content that will not replace what Hollywood’s doing but will augment what Hollywood is doing by filling some of those empty seats that are just sitting there waiting to be filled."

Movie Theaters as Sports VenuesFor proof this model works, audiences need only to consider that plenty of those who couldn’t see Taylor Swift in person were willing to watch the "Eras Tour" film in theaters. That decision resulted in an economic impact of nearly $261.66 million globally and generated more ticket sales across the movie industry than any other concert film in history. AMC also has shown some WWE, UFC and other sporting events at theaters in recent years, including in 2021.

Last summer, Forbes reported on a partnership between ESPN and Cinemark Theaters, to allow college football games to be aired in those venues. That agreement came on the heels of broadcast playoff games being shown in local theaters the previous two years.

Theater Sports Network president Scott Daw told reporters that he believed “movie theaters were the next great frontier for live sporting events.”

It’s a model of event that has been generating income for years. 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.

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 has continued. (In fact, it was Fathom who led the charge, hosting not only cheer and boxing but motor sports, football and soccer).

Next, Fathom will allow boxing audiences to consume a May 4 fight between Mexican superstars  Canelo Álvarez and Jaime Munguía when they face off in Las Vegas.

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 have also worked to build excitement around events; for example, with the 2014 NFinity Champions Cheerleading Event, which was broadcast in theaters, participants were encouraged to bring their entire squads and 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.”

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