Realising sport’s potential in cinemas

UK: Independent cinema chain Apollo Cinema has kitted out its theatres with Sony 4k digital projectors, and MD, Rob Arthur, cites sports as a major plank in the move towards incorporating event-based screenings into his cinema’s schedules. Getting hold of the content, however, isn’t always easy.

On the success side of things, he points to a recent screening of Chasing Legends, Gripped Films’ feature length documentary following the HTC-Columbia team through the 2009 Tour de France, which has been touring independents and the festival circuit since its release last year. “I was amazed at that,” he says. “A good cinema trades on 20% occupancy over any given year, but that sold out across a lot of our screens at £10 a head – and on a Tuesday night.”

Admittedly, the numbers were helped by the inclusion of a Q&A with star sprinter Mark Cavendish live by satellite, but such stats are why chains such as Apollo are increasingly programming sports across their screens – I,Superbiker, a doco following four superbike riders through their dramatic British Superbike season is next on the schedule on 14 March. However, its live sport in 3D that really gets bums on seats and will make the most of Apollo’s RealD/Sony/Arqiva set-up, but it’s also live sports that are currently the most difficult events to stage.

Arthur refers to the rights issues surrounding last year’s FIFA World Cup as “a complete nightmare from a cinema operator’s viewpoint,” and points to the current Six Nations rugby tournament as another case in point. “We get asked about it all the time and it sold out last year, but for some reason it just didn’t happen this year,” he says.

Arthur contends that such events need to happen to justify the £50-80k costs per screen of converting to digital (with 3D, inevitably, adding a further percentage on top of that) and is actively trying to arrange screenings. “We’re trying to get events,” he says. “We’re looking at Wimbledon and I’d love to get the Champion’s League Final as well, but at the moment we’re getting more success in arranging screenings of opera and ballet.”

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