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Cirque du Soleil to hit the NFL locker room with Times Square attraction

Hand-out/Cirque du Soleil Canada inc.

Cirque du Soleil is venturing onto new turf by partnering with the National Football League in the creation of an interactive tourist attraction in New York's Times Square.

The Montreal-based producer of sophisticated circus-based shows around the world has struck a licensing agreement with the NFL and is planning to invest about $40-million (U.S.) in the creation of a four-storey exhibit space and immersive theatre at the corner of West 47th Street and 7th Avenue.

The move represents a new direction for Cirque and is the first non-theatrical project in the company's storied history, Cirque president and chief executive Daniel Lamarre said in an interview from New York on Thursday.

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"It's kind of like we're creating a new division. We see a lot of potential in this sector," he said.

"The NFL project should open doors for us in other sports."

Other possible partnerships – although none are being explored at the moment – might include soccer in Europe and Asia or hockey in Canada, Mr. Lamarre said.

Unlike its usual presentations, with the Cirque brand front-and-centre, the NFL Times Square Experience will see Cirque playing a more discreet role, as behind-the-scenes content creator, developer and operator of the venue, he said.

"We want to make this a success so that it becomes a showcase" leading to other projects, he said.

The venture came about after Cirque did two half-time Super Bowl shows and approached the NFL about building a permanent venue for football fans and potential fans, Mr. Lamarre said.

It's part of Cirque's strategy – under new private-equity owners – to develop ventures capitalizing on the company's strong talent pool and creative resources. For example, Cirque has a corporate events and special-projects division, 45 Degrees.

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Among elements in the NFL space will be a 350-seat theatre with high-definition screens, a recreated team locker room, and player memorabilia, said Scott Zeiger, head of Cirque du Soleil Theatrical.

Cirque already has a presence in New York with the Broadway musical Paramour.

"As with most of their current projects, I'm seeing a convergence of the creative and the commercial further blurring the line between their more artistic-driven persona, which was more about content; and their 'creatives-for-hire' side of things, which is more based on creating strong experiences in spectators and clients," Patrick Leroux, a Concordia University professor and director of the Montreal Working Group on Circus Research, said in an e-mail.

Cirque ran into financial difficulties a few years ago. Last year, private equity firm TPG Capital took control with minority partners Fosun Capital Group and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec in a $1.5-billion (Canadian) deal.

The agreement with the NFL includes partnerships with New York real estate development and investment firm Witkoff Group, sports and entertainment presenter AEG, and other firms.

Admission to the Times Square venue will be in the $30 (U.S.) range, Mr. Lamarre said. It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.

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