The NFL is finally embracing live football games on the big screen, via Canada.
The pro league has signed a deal with Canadian exhibition giant Cineplex to show Sunday Night Football and the Super Bowl at theaters countrywide. The three-year agreement, touted by Cineplex as a first-ever for the industry, will include sponsorship opportunities, fan activations and eSports tournaments tied into the NFL.
The deal contrasts with the U.S. market, where the pro football league prefers fans to enjoy live games in stadiums or in the comfort of their living rooms. North of the border, the NFL Sundays at Cineplex initiative will kick off on Nov. 12 with live games broadcast to 15 theaters, and will expand to 50 locations for Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018.
Tickets to live NFL games will be $5.00, and can be reserved ahead for seats in VIP theaters with luxury recliners and trays for game-day burgers and chicken wings. The NFL deal will allow Cineplex to fill cinema seats on slow Sunday nights and during dinner hours when patrons are more likely to load up at the concession stand.
Cineplex president and CEO Ellis Jacob said the NFL deal will allow his chain to target 11 million football fans as it continues to diversify away from a reliance on Hollywood movies to drive revenues. “We are always looking for new and innovative ways to entertain Canadians and these events will drive incremental attendance to our theatres and provide fans with a viewing experience on the big screen,” Jacob said in a statement.
David Thomson, managing director of NFL Canada, in his own statement said the Canadian theater deal was part of an effort to “recruit the next generation of NFL fans by offering them unique, engaging and dynamic experiences.” Unlike the U.S. market where TV ratings for live NFL games is falling, viewership is rising in Canada, where NFL-related TV revenue is significant.
Bell Media, which airs NFL games here, including the top-rated Super Bowl, said overall viewership for NFL games is up 10 percent north of the border over last year on TSN and CTV, with average audiences up 53 percent for Sunday night games.
The Cineplex theaters will use Bell Media’s Canadian feed of live NFL games, which contains local TV commercials and counts for local ratings.