Going full out at Cheer Live, and why the show-to-experience formula is such a hit

Photo by Danielle Del Valle / Getty Images

When my pandemic obsession, Netflix’s Cheer, announced that the Navarro squad would head out on a Summer 2022 tour, I knew I could, I would, I must find a show to attend. Originally, I tried to convince a group of friends to venture out to Atlantic City (“We’ll make a weekend out of it!”). Then, Cheer fans from around the country came out of the woodwork, taking to — where else? — Twitter to demand that the eight-city tour grow to visit their city.

When it was announced that Coach Monica and her team of high flyers would grace the Radio City Music Hall stage with their routine, I grabbed my partner-in-experiential, visual journalist Louie Rendon, and we bounded for Midtown.

As two childless thirty-somethings, we stood out like a cartwheel in a row of backflips. Most of the attendees were either kids in their cheer-squad gear or parents in their kids’ cheer-squad gear. Nevertheless, with a little White Claw courage, we whooped and hollered throughout the two-hour experience with the rest of them.

The two-hour performance was far beyond the typical two-minute routine these elite athletes (what’s up, Morgan Simianer and Gabi Butler?) are accustomed to. Event producers had to get creative to stretch the show into a $50+ experience, with segments including:

  • The history of cheerleading
  • A TikTok dance tutorial and contest
  • An Olympics-inspired skills competition
  • Solo performances from the show’s most popular stars

Cheer Live is one of many success stories in the show-to-experience formula. When creating the experiential activation, producers get to skip the whole “who’s our audience?” step. The show already has a loyal enough fanbase to make a pop-up or tour worth the expense. But why does it work? And what are some of the other biggest success stories?

1. The characters and the settings are familiar

While surprise-and-delight is one of the most important elements of experiential, most consumers don’t want to walk into a scenario completely in the dark. By centering an activation around a show’s familiar characters, settings and plot points, attendees won’t feel as confused or anxious walking in.

Who’s doing it well?

The Friends Experience opened its doors in 2019, yet fans are still lining up and shelling out $45 per person. The activation is simple — explore a recreated set of the sitcom, check out memorabilia from the show and take (and post) as many photos as you want.

Attendees can order a coffee and sit on a replica of Central Perk’s famous orange couch, walk through Monica’s apartment, or dance in (well, more like near) a fountain à la the show’s opening credits. In fact, the experience has proved so popular, while it started as a pop-up, it’s now a permanent ticketed exhibition in New York.

2. Guests handle the social media marketing

While many of the pop-up-style experiences are shrugged off among the industry elite as nothing more than selfie factories, the formula works. Not every show has the star status of Friends (or Seinfeld, which had an almost identical experience tour before the pandemic) to stand on set replicas alone, but every activation must include these types of “shareable moments.”

Who’s doing it well?

Stranger Things: The Experience splits attendees into groups through a maze of escape rooms. After battling Demogorgons in the Upside Down, guests enter the Mix-Tape — a room full of themed food and beverages like Scoops Ahoy and Surfer Boy Pizza, a functional arcade with old-school games like Centipede and Dig Dug, and the Byers’ living room. And, of course, there’s plenty of merch.

This “exit through the gift shop” strategy keeps guests on site after the adventure is over. Instead of running out, high on adrenaline, to debrief at a diner across the street, fans stay and continue to engage with the experience. This way, fans not only post their ice cream cones and new Hellfire Club t-shirts, but rave about the experience as well.

3. Fans crave immersive experiences

We won’t get all metaverse on you, but some of the most successful experiential activations are completely immersive. From MeowWolf to “Sleep No More,” escapism is big right now, thanks to the seemingly endless inferno of the human experience. Similar to the need for familiar characters and settings, fans want to explore a world entirely different from their own, but with recognizable elements along the way.

Who’s doing it well?

The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience toured throughout spring and summer 2022. Fans explored Shonda Rhimes’ version of Regency England, immersing themselves in English gardens, croquet matches and even a royal ball complete with dance lessons. Rent the Runway partnered with the event, offering attendees a 25% discount to find period-appropriate attire.

By encouraging attendees to dress the part, the Bridgerton experience made guests feel like they were cast members on the show. Instead of out-of-place photo opps, social media posts looked curated, positioning the people in the photos, videos, Stories and TikToks as the main characters — not the background.

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Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.