Chuck E. Cheese Aims To Revitalize Brand With New Reality Game Show



Chuck E. Cheese may have retired its original animatronic in-house band in favor of bigger Hollywood aspirations.

This week Chuck E. Cheese parent company CEC Entertainment announced a development partnership with Magical Elves -- producer of hit non-fiction content including Bravo's long-running "Top Chef"-- to create a game show series based on the brand's arcade experience. The deal was brokered by Creative Artists Agency.

“The series will leverage the global awareness of Chuck E. Cheese, tapping into a multigenerational fan base who has grown up with the brand,” per the release. The show appears to have taken a cue from the mega successful “American Ninja Warrior,” as contestants will compete in “physical challenges … over supersized arcade games – including pinball, air hockey, alley roller and the human claw.” Winners get to use their tickets to obtain TBD prizes at an oversized Chuck E. Cheese prize wall.

In a statement, Melissa McLeanas, vice president of global licensing, media, and branded entertainment development of Chuck E. Cheese, noted the benefits of working with Magical Elves, “whose expertise in unscripted content makes them the perfect partner to capture the wholesome competitive spirit tied to childhood memories and transform the Chuck E. Cheese experience for television."

“Leveraging Chuck E. Cheese’s IP with the help of Magic Elves, who have a proven track record of having fun with the shows they create, is a smart way to breathe some new life into the brand,” said Undnyable founder and COO Justin Hooper, who has spent the majority of his career in QSR and fast-casual marketing.

It remains to be seen to what level the brand and restaurants will be integrated into the show, if there’s distribution or a network attached or even any estimates on when the show will commence production. (CEC declined to comment beyond the release at this time).

“On the plus side, partnerships with Magical Elves and having CAA representation are surely big positives  -- although it’s impossible from the outside to know the depth of those commitments,” says David Scardino, a veteran media buyer/analyst executive for a number of media agencies. Perception-wise, given its long up and down history, Scardino wondered “where Chuck E. Cheese stands today as a brand with consumers.”

The show is a brand extension for the family entertainment chain known for its now-retired animatronics band, arcade midway and pizza menu. But this is just one of the many changes and evolution the chain has experienced in the last few years.

Sales waned during COVID, causing CEC to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2020. The company emerged from Chapter 11 protection in 2021.

In November of 2023 CEC Entertainment, LLC., the parent company of Chuck E. Cheese, hired Mark Kupferman as chief insights and marketing officer. Kuperman, who joined from Ruth’s Chris,  spent the majority of his career in the theme park marketing business, with over 10 years at Six Flags in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and more than four years at Universal Orlando, which lends itself well to breathing new energy into a family entertainment destination.

Since November the chain has launched a new adult-themed menu, incorporating world tastes into pizzas, wings, meatballs and desserts tailored for a “mature palate.” The chain also expanded into Australia, with what it calls a “reimagined Chuck E. Cheese kid-friendly experience that seamlessly blends its classic offerings with cutting-edge interactive play and activities.”

The chain also recently spent $300 million on revamping its arcades. The brand currently has 600 Chuck E. Cheese Fun Centers, with locations in 47 states and 18 foreign countries and territories.

“(The show) alone won’t transform the business,” said Hooper. "Kids today have any number of new options we never had when Chuck E. Cheese reigned supreme back in the 80’s: Top golf, indoor golf-karting, Fortnight, e-bikes, virtual reality, Great Wolf Lodge, etc. They’ll still need to adapt and modernize to what it means for 'a kid to be a kid' in 2024.”


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