NFL, Cirque du Soleil partnering to create NYC exhibit

NEW YORK -- In an aggressive maneuver to usher in a new fan base and insert themselves as a permanent resident along one of the most traveled streets in the world, the NFL announced Thursday that it will partner with Canadian-based acrobatic theater company Cirque du Soleil in a joint venture that will include a theater and interactive exhibit in Times Square.

Cirque du Soleil will build the 40,000 square-foot space, set to open in November of 2017, and will be provided with access to NFL merchandise and an archive of NFL Films, which will supply video content on a massive, four-story videoboard outside of the building. Inside, Cirque du Soleil will stage exhibitions and 20-minute shows that aim to encapsulate the NFL's game day experience, from the intensity and sound of a pre-game locker room to the snow and frigid temperatures at Lambeau Field, aided by the NFL Films database.

Dawn Hudson, the NFL's Chief Marketing Officer, said that there is fan interest in broadcasting live NFL games on their videoboard on the outside of the building (located at 20 Times Square) but that the league has yet to contact its broadcast partners.

"There is certainly fan interest, but we have to work with our network partners who are broadcasting it to see their comfort level on things like that, which we will do," Hudson said. "We haven't been able to talk to them until today."

Both sides are betting on strong brand names in an effort to cross pollinate fan bases. The NFL, which has a serious interest in growing its game abroad with plans to expand in Europe, China and deeper into Central and South America, can benefit from Cirque du Soleil's largely international base and the tourism foot traffic surrounding the area. Cirque du Soleil, most famous for their touring act and Las Vegas stage shows, now has a compound near Broadway.

"About 20 percent of the people who come to Times Square are international," Hudson said. "I wouldn't say that is why we did it, but it's certainly a thing we're looking at. So as we build it out, we have to make sure there is something for the most avid fan -- and understand, our fans internationally are avid. Many of them know more than me about the NFL.

"But at the same time, for someone just learning the sport it can't be so foreign. You have to be able to experience and learn about it."

Scott Zeiger, Cirque du Soleil's managing director, hinted at several of those experiences.

"There will be recreations of an NFL locker room, there will be memorabilia from great superstars of years past and current, there will be touch screen-immersive expositions," he said, speaking of the outer, exhibition-driven portion of the theater.

He added: "Once you are in the immersive theater, it is the full-on multimedia experience. There will be screens in front of you, screens on the side walls and ceilings, and it will be as if you are in the game -- from the locker room to the tunnel to the sidelines and into the huddle and the winning of the game. ... It might snow in the theater, it may rain in the theater. We're going to let our imaginations run wild."

Zeiger also mentioned exhibits where one can measure their muscle mass against that of an NFL player, or test their hand-eye coordination.

The venture is hoping to generate 25,000 tickets per week.

NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, the emcee for the announcement news conference Thursday, sounded excited about the prospect of relaying the white-knuckle intensity of being in an NFL game, to those who were never able to experience.

"That's what we're trying to here, bring fans of all ages and abilities into the huddle," Sanders said.

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