Tim League Named Alamo CEO: What Does This Mean?

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Fantastic Fest: Day 7

As I reported on Cinematical earlier this morning, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema announced today that Tim League is now the company's CEO. What exactly does this mean, and how does it affect moviegoers in Austin? Now that more detailed news than the press release I received is starting to appear, let's sort  this out. Bear with me while I time-travel a bit to provide background, and then we can discuss the effects. (My sources are all listed at the end of the article.)

In 2004, Tim and Karrie League sold the company Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to a group of investors who planned to expand and franchise the Alamo brand name. The Leagues retained some financial interest in the company, as well as the right to use the Alamo Drafthouse name on the three theaters they owned in Austin: South Lamar, Village, and Downtown (then the one on Colorado). Alamo Lake Creek isn't owned by the Leagues; it's part of the company they sold. If you've noticed that the menu at Lake Creek is different and the programming is not quite the same, this is why.

Since 2004, the company opened more new Alamo Drafthouses around Texas. By 2010, nine company-owned or franchised Alamo Drafthouses were open in Austin, San Antonio, Houston/Katy, and even one in Virginia.

However, in March 2009, the Leagues filed a lawsuit against the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema company, as well as its then-CEO John Martin and other principal officers in the company. The Leagues felt that fraudulent claims had been made in regard to the sale of the company -- the investors had planned for 200 Alamo Drafthouse franchises that never happened, among other things, and had merged the company with another one in a way that lowered the value of the Leagues' interest in it.

That was the last we heard about the lawsuit for awhile, although apparently negotiations have been brewing behind the scenes since then. In fall 2009, the Leagues opened The Highball, which they stressed in interviews is entirely separate from Alamo Drafthouse. The Highball sometimes holds afterparties related to nearby Alamo South Lamar events, but it is legally a separate entity.

Now, today, we learn that Tim League has been named CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, the company he and Karrie sold back in 2004. This is the outcome of the dispute between the Leagues and the company that resulted in the 2009 lawsuit, and so far it feels like an upbeat resolution.

As CEO, League will be overseeing the operations and programming for all Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas theaters -- the ones he owns, the ones the company owns and to a certain extent, the franchise theaters. This doesn't mean he bought back the company entirely, but he does have a share in its ownership. He is looking forward to expanding Alamo Drafthouse franchises into a number of U.S. markets outside Texas. This could potentially be great news for non-Austinites.

But what does this mean for us in Austin? First of all, League says all Alamo theaters are now merged under one umbrella -- one company, one website. He plans to merge "preshow development," which means you'll likely see the same preshows at Alamo Lake Creek that are in rotation at the other three local theaters. And they're "merging" the menus -- I'll be interested to see exactly what that entails.

I've definitely noticed a contingency of frequent filmgoers who love to watch movies at the three League-owned Alamo locations, but who avoid Alamo Lake Creek like the plague. Some are like Jenn Brown and can't travel easily to Lake Creek, which is practically in Cedar Park and very inconvenient via bus. Other people claim that the projection quality is poorer, the food isn't as good and the programming isn't to their taste.

Look at a couple of comments on Twitter to see what I mean. Hollywood Elsewhere contributor Moises Chiullan happily posted "Dear @timalamo, This means I can go to Lake Creek again once they up their projection standards & serve Dr. Pepper! Hail to the King." And local filmmaker Don Swaynos noted, "I'm pretty excited that, from now on, when I go to @alamolakecreek I won't feel like I'm cheating on @drafthouse."

Most of the comments on Twitter, however, range from congratulations for Tim League to requests that Alamo Drafthouses open in cities from Dallas to Santa Monica to Chicago to Ashland, Oregon. (My favorite, from League's fellow Fantastic Fest co-founder Paul Alvarado-Dykstra: "Onward to world domination!")

Alamo Lake Creek does have some unique programming that I hope will remain: monthly Austin Film Festival screenings of indie/festival films, events geared toward serious beer lovers, and their annual "Dismember the Alamo" zombie film festival. I've always liked the theater myself. And despite the complaints I've heard over the years from hardcore fans of the League-owned theaters, when I've been to Alamo Lake Creek, the theater seems to have no trouble attracting audiences.

What do you think about this news, and what do you think the impact will be? Let's talk about it in the comments.

News sources for this article:

  • "Tim League to Assume Role as CEO of Merged Alamo Drafthouse," Alamo Drafthouse Blog. This blog entry also includes the official press release for the announcement, and a spiffy new photo of Tim League by local photographer Mary Sledd.
  • "Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Part 2: Co-founder Returns as CEO," Austin American-Statesman. Brian Gaar's article includes some good quotes from Tim League explaining details of the deal.
  • "Alamo Drafthouse founder returns as CEO" -- Austin Business Journal. The only article I've found so far that ties the 2009 lawsuit into the deal announced today.
  • "Alamo Drafthouse Founders Sue" -- Austin Business Journal (March 13, 2009). Info on the 2009 lawsuit filed by the Leagues.
  • "10 Pins and a Dream" -- Austin Chronicle (June 12, 2009). Marc Savlov's interview with Tim League about plans for The Highball (then called The Palace) also includes some info about the lawsuit.

I wish it would mean better

I wish it would mean better programing at Alamo South. But why would it? The Alamo South is a great theatre, but taking a look at last week's programing is disheartening: Iron Man2, Shrek2, Babies, Robin Hood. Why exactly is it still called alternative?

Programming

How odd -- my recent visits there have not been for mainstream -- Exit Through the Giftshop, two FREE martial arts films, Austin Film Society Essential Cinema (although moved to Downtown location now), and upcoming Texas Filmmakers Production Fund benefit with Lovers of Hate special screening.
I also saw the graphic artist/author from Intergalactic Nemesis at South Lamar, screening Episode 3 before the 7pm Shrek screenings on Fri/Sat/Sun.

Now that they're 'under one

Now that they're 'under one umbrella' I wonder how the rest of company leadership will affect operations at the three 'real' Drafthouses. I live a hop, skip, and a jump from Lakecreek, but I always go to Village, Ritz, or S Lamar. Tim has said one of the strengths of the way he runs his business is his personal contact with the fanba... er, customers. As the brand spreads and franchises, can he continue to maintain that personal touch while serving as CEO?

I wonder what will happen to

I wonder what will happen to the Drafthouse that was going to be built in southwest Austin on the corner of Mopac and Slaughter. Anybody know?

Old Cinemas

Who will agree that the old Barton Creek Cinemark theater would be an IDEAL place for a new Alamo? I mean, if you think about it (for those of you that remember it), the layout of the auditoriums is perfect. Just renovate the other stuff and it works, plus the parking lot size!!. Not to mention, it would blow away the AMC theater across the street. I dunno, just a thought.

Alamo Lake Creek

This is great news. I take the family to Alamo Lake Creek, and I love some of their special events - beer celebration, babies days, dinner and a mainstream movie with the kids. Have never had an issue with food or service. But for the real Alamo experience I've had to make the drive downtown. Hopefully Lake Creek can keep some of the "suburbanite" attractions but have more "Alamo" quality and programming.

What about Virginia

I wonder why the Winchester Virginia Alamo seems yet to be yet a third offspin....it's certainly not alternative or adult. It's more like every other theater, meaning, it has lots of small children running around and the most boring preshows I have ever seen.... I would rather see paid advertisements than some of the boring crap they show as "preshows". Too many kids movies and the overall culture just isn't like the other Alamo's.