Marvel Universe Live! Going on the Road

Marvel's most popular characters have already jumped from the comic book to box office dominance and now the Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) brand has its sites set on conquering the live show market. 

Feld Entertainment, which already partners with the House of Mouse for Disney on Ice and Disney Live!, has signed a deal to bring some of the company's most famous characters to arenas around the United States. Marvel Universe Live! will bring more than 25 Marvel characters together in "a high-caliber arena spectacular that puts fans right in the middle of one of the most electrifying battles between good and evil ever conceived," according to a release.

The 85-stop North American tour makes its debut in July in Tampa, Fla., followed by the world premiere at New York City's Barclays Center on Aug.13.

How risky is a show like this for Disney?
Live tours have the potential to be incredibly lucrative, but there are risks involved, according to Joe Gold, founder and principal of The Gold Group, which currently works with the traveling exhibits Mummies of the World, Sea Monsters Revealed, and The Complete Frida Kahlo.

In a phone interview, Gold said that while he does not know the exact model Disney/Feld will be using for this tour, he expects the ticket price to be high and the show to do at least five to seven performances in each city. "It's probably a very expensive show to move, but if anyone knows how to move a show economically it is the Feld organization," Gold said.

How lucrative can Marvel Universe Live! be?
According to Gold, the risk for Disney is mitigated because the show is done on a licensing agreement with Feld. Disney has a creative role and there is some risk that a lousy show could hurt the Marvel brand. But the financial downside of people simply not buying tickets falls on Feld, not Disney.

"It's very lucrative for Disney and potentially very lucrative for Feld," Gold said.

Under a typical licensing deal, the company licensing the material pays a percentage of revenue to the rights owner. 

"Disney risks opportunity with someone else and they risk their brand," Gold said. "When we [Gold's former employers from which Feld Entertainment developed] first took Disney on Ice on the road, there was a brand manager from Disney that traveled with the show to make sure that we in no way jeopardized that extremely valuable enterprise that they had."

Since those early days, Gold said the level of trust between Disney and Feld has widened and deepened.

Can Marvel Universe Live! be another Disney on Ice?
Marvel and Feld have decided to tour with a plotted show rather than a montage performance. According to the release announcing the tour, the show will offer an epic quest.

The story is framed around the battle over the Cosmic Cube, the source of ultimate power and one of the most feared and coveted treasures in the Marvel Universe, that has been shattered into pieces by the Mighty Thor in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. With the pieces scattered across the globe, Thor's villainous brother Loki devises a scheme to clone its powers, inciting a threat that could not only decimate Earth but also obliterate the universe.  

Because of the size of the Marvel Universe and the large number of characters and plotlines it offers, Gold believes that the show could become another perennially touring Disney offering.

"This could be something that goes on in perpetuity," Gold said. "The risk though is that Disney ice shows are successful because the target audience is women and young girls. The Marvel brand is targeted toward boys and parents. Most shows that have been targeted toward boys have not been all that successful."
 
Disney and Marvel are powerful brands
Feld Entertainment has had success reaching boys before -- the company owns the popular Monster Truck shows that play successfully around the country. There is also a built-in audience (and marketing system) as the various Disney channels air and promote a number of cartoons that tie in to the Marvel Universe. 

Kids who watch those shows may be too young to go see the latest Thor or Iron Man movies, but parents know that it's safe to take them to see Marvel Universe Live! It's also helpful to Disney that dad (and mom) might not be all that excited about taking a son to see Bob the Builder live or any of the Disney pop stars pushed to kids in concert, but he likely won't mind sitting through a show about Thor and Loki.

Marvel Universe Live! should serve as an excellent way to keep young kids engaged with the brand. The show will not only make Disney money, it should create a whole new generation of kids who will ultimately head to the box office for a big-screen look at the superheroes they once saw live in an arena.

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