LBE Extends Into New Spaces
Location-based experiences (LBE) continue to extend their reach beyond entertainment-based IPs, but can corporate brands carry the same weight for licensing?
Chuck E. Cheese licensed its brand to Silverwood Entertainment’s 23-acre California Dreamin’ water park in Sacramento, CA. The offering will include a branded family and children’s area, rides, arcade, and retail shop as part of a three-year, $30-million renovation plan. Chuck E. Cheese is known for its characters and creating a restaurant “experience” across its 568 owned and franchised locations, but it remains to be seen how the brand will be translated to a water park.
Netflix recently announced plans for permanent brick-and-mortar locations. The first two Netflix House locations will open in 2025 with experiences based the streaming service’s content and featuring food and beverages, merchandise, and immersive installations. Netflix has a dedicated Consumer Products and Experiences division and previously worked with events company Fever in operating a Stranger Things pop-up store in New York, The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgeton Experience, and the upcoming Squid Game: The Trials experience that launched ticket sales October 11 and opens December 6 in Los Angeles. Overall, it has created 40 experiences in various forms inspired by its original content.
But while Netflix series like Stranger Things, Squid Game, and Bridgerton have well-established fan bases, will the streamer’s corporate brand carry the same panache?
Corporations like Kellogg’s, Heineken, Hershey, Mars Inc.’s M&M, and others have had success with experience centers at their headquarters and, in some cases, standalone retail stores.
“An experience does create an emotional connection and with Crayola and LEGO you have physical experiences that can do that” in addition to a retail presence, said George Wade, President of the consulting firm Bay Laurel Advisors. “The question is, what will be the expectations for something with the Chuck E. Cheese or Netflix name on it? That is going to be an important point in that a lot of it is perceived value for the guest and what those expectations are.”
The value of those location-based experiences may be found in simply expanding a brand’s marketing and reach. Madame Tussauds in New York is known for its wax museums, but it has developed a Halloween-themed three-course dinner and room for an overnight stay with InterContinental Hotels Group and Warner Bros. The offering, which is based on The Exorcist and The Conjuring films, started October 13 and runs through October 31.
While Dolly Parton’s Dollywood in Pidgeon Forge, TN is already well-established, it will open a new Dollywood Experience in 2024 with a new rollercoaster and high-speed chairlift that comes on the heels of a renewed licensing program. And the Area15 immersive experience in Las Vegas announced the opening of Universal Horror Unleashed, the studio’s first permanent horror installation.
Not be outdone, Asian entertainment company Max-Matching recently unveiled plans for Top Park, a family entertainment center that will combine the IPs of Hasbro, Mattel, Crayola, and WildBrain in a single complex near Beijing when it opens in 2026. Max-Matching has an existing LBE agreement with Crayola and adds a new one with WildBrain for Peanuts, Teletubbies, and In the Night Garden. Max-Matching is also developing an outdoor theme park in China for Hasbro’s Peppa Pig brand.
Netflix House and other new corporate LBE expansions are “a way of expressing fandom,” Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos said. “You can see it on a large scale with theme, but our build outs won’t have that gigantic capital expenditure. We also expect fans to be [engaging] multiple times a year, not just once every couple of years. It’s a way to take a business that is good at growing and taking our brands and strengthening them.”