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Legendary Pictures’ Thomas Tull on mixing love of sports and entertainment

Legendary Pictures Chairman and CEO Thomas Tull readily admits that he is living a dream as the boss of a major film studio in Hollywood and part owner of his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I’m literally the luckiest guy on the planet, because when I was a kid I was a movie geek,” he said. “I loved Batman, Superman and Godzilla, and, it turns out, I get to make those, which is crazy. And the Steelers… I don’t know where the leprechaun is, or whatever, but it’s been a pretty crazy ride. “

Tull has tailored his ability to tell stories to both of his passions, film and sports.
During a one-on-one interview at the 2014 IMG World Congress of Sports, Tull said, “Whether you’re selling tickets in a theater, or DVDs, or live experiences on sports, we all have to realize that there are many more entertainment choices today than have ever been available before, so the competition is tougher, the bar is higher for that experience. And people also — whether they’re passionate about Batman, or passionate about the Steelers, or the Yankees, or whatever — want to have a deeper connection and experience.”

Tull said a critical concern for the sports experience is “having things in-game, the experience in the stadium, and having the communal experience that you can’t experience at home, no matter how big your TV is or whether it’s HD. “

Tull also talked about how to use content to drive the fan experience.
“My first inclination as somebody that kinda tells stories for a living is to get personal,” he said. “What people are used to now with social media is little snippets and deeper looks into people’s lives or circumstances.”
Tull also just closed a deal for data analysis company Stratbridge, which, he says, will add efficiency in targeting sports and film audiences.

“People are willing to put their lives, their likes, their dislikes, their social conversations online in a way that you can take a look at,” he said. “And, for us, it’s about not targeting people who have absolutely no interest. It’s about taking people who are persuadable -- that if they had the information and you engage with them in a way that’s compelling to them -- they would want to buy the movie ticket, go to the game, whatever it is that you’re selling.
“Because of the amount of entertainment choices that are available, we want to be very targeted, and we want to get to people who can be persuaded. If you’re absolutely going, and you’re a fan, we want to spend some time on you, but not as much. And if you’re absolutely not going, then that’s a tough way to spend money.”

Quick hits:

On what he looks for from brands that partner on films: “When we have these kinds of partnerships, we will sit down … and ask them what their goals are. Because, frankly, to have someone write us a check to do a product placement thing and be at the premier, maybe you get that check once, but we want to have … a deeper, richer experience with brands that make sense to be next to ours. We talk about being around, among and infused into the entire experience. It all has to be elegant. We couldn’t put Nike in “42.” It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Or in “300,” for that matter. The point is you have to pay attention to the brands, understand what their goals are and how they want to connect, and, regardless of the check or the check size, if the answer is, ‘We just can’t do that,’ then it’s not interesting to us.”

On becoming a part owner of the Steelers: “I’ve been a lifelong diehard Steelers fan since I was a little boy, and when Mr. Rooney called me at the end of 2007 and said, ‘How would you like to be my partner?’, I stammered something, said yes, went home and told my wife, and she said, ‘How much?’ And I said I had no idea, I just said yes. True story. She’s very proud of me. It’s as cool as I thought it would be, and it’s a real privilege to be a part of.”

On what he’s learned from Steelers owner Dan Rooney.: “Many things. First of all, carry yourself with class and dignity at all times. And whether it’s your industry, in this case it’s the NFL, he truly puts the NFL first constantly. And is constantly thinking about what’s right for the league. The way he treats the players, the rapport he has, and also seeing the big picture, and constantly taking a step back and asking what are we really trying to accomplish here.”

On the type of sports stories that can work as big theatrical releases: “I think you have to have something where the characters and the human story connect. Is it something that connects with people? That even if you’re not a sports fan you can go and understand what’s going on? ’42’ happened to be set in the baseball world, but I would argue that the Jackie Robinson story is much bigger than that, and much more important. For us –- and I happen to be a big fan of what he did for this game and this country -– those are some of things that we look at.”
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