Scheduling matters: How will the 2022 World Cup impact the movie business?

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I was mesmerized the other morning by a news story about the schedule adjustment of the World Cup. If you haven’t heard, FIFA, the global soccer authority, has proposed moving the World Cup to a winter time frame of November/December for 2022 in Qatar. It is expected to become a confirmed decision. The problems with Qatar winning the bid for the World Cup have been many, and this latest news has produced quite an outcry. It’s staggering to consider what the move means to club schedules and broadcast schedules, but FIFA is plowing forward.

How much impact does scheduling have on sports and entertainment? Tremendous. We try to keep our big events from overlapping; we try to manage the years when they do. For the movie business, scheduling is our lifeline. When we have a stellar schedule of films in a given year, our box office thrives, as does our concession stand. When we have a year when the number of strong films is lower, such as 2014, we suffer. And when we go head-to-head with the Olympics? We lose.

In a good year when we have the summer and the holidays to ourselves plus a stellar film schedule, we kill it. That would be the current year we are in. We are not competing against any big events in 2015: no Olympics, no World Cup, no presidential debates, and our schedule is bursting with big films. In previewing 23 films that will knock this year out of the park, HitFix.com stated it best: “No, years like this don't appear on the release date schedule very often, so you can also think of it like the movie Summer Olympics. In 2016, the world's athletes will head to Rio. In 2015, you'll be compelled and (hopefully) excited to head to your movie theatre more often than you're used to.”

Our concession problem this year? Making sure we have inventory to feed the masses.

Scheduling matters. I’m already thinking that in November/December the World Cup will have to compete with football in the U.S., and football will win. When we watch the World Cup in the summer, and the U.S. team always seems to come in as the underdog? We love it. But in the fall, against our love of our version of football? Tough. How will this affect the movie industry? It will make our holiday season even tighter and the need to spread the consumer’s income and attention will be maxed out like the best credit cards at Christmas.

But that’s in 2022, so why discuss it now? Because it’s forward-thinking about how our industry truly does operate to be successful. Movie production and planning is a long, years-in-the-making process. The World Cup move will be considered by production companies for their release schedules because product is driven by well-planned investments. 2022 may seem like it’s a long way off, but it’s not as far away as you think.

The truth about box-office and concession sales is that when we have good product, people come to the theatre and spend money. It all boils down to product, scheduling, and sometimes good luck. Getting people to buy once they are there becomes our operational challenge, along with motivating them to keep coming back for the beauty of social interaction. But we can’t cut our throats by not scheduling enough product to bring them in. 2014 was painful, and this was the reason why.

So does FIFA really care that they will be throwing everyone’s schedule into question, including ours? It’s doubtful, from what I know of the organization. But it’s going to be fun listening to the fallout from the decision and seeing if the decision sticks. Qatar won the bid even though average temperatures in June and July range between 105 and 109 degrees; this somehow slipped by in the bidding process, or it simply didn’t matter at the time, or the money was just too good to pass on. (I’m going with door #3.) So let’s just move to November/December! Brilliant! If movie industry execs decided to move our big season from June/July to January/February, would everyone follow? If we released all of our big blockbuster movies at that time, would people readjust their schedules and follow us? Could we actually reschedule our big season?

It’s an interesting question, because when we do release good films in January and February, they perform well. Good product always does. But the fact is that people, and kids specifically, have much more free time in the summer. That means they have more time to see more films. We also have nicer weather in the summer. It’s hard to go to the movies when a city shuts down due to ice (as in Dallas). So when they move the World Cup to November/December, will the world shop less and schedule fewer holiday parties? When a big game occurs on the 23rd, 24th or 25th of December, will we stay home instead of going to the movies? Maybe we can host World Cup games live on our screens to boost our alternative-content offering.

Whatever the outcome, make no mistake that it matters. Scheduling always matters, because a world full of busy people needs to make time to have fun. As the movie industry, we have to fight for those hours just like any other venue, and 2022, whatever it looks like, will pose this challenge just as it does today.

Send your comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.