Founder Richard Ayers and investor Trevor Beattie tell Frank Dalleres about Rematch, the immersive sporting experience bringing the Rumble in the Jungle to London in early 2023.
Imagine for a moment that you could attend any sporting event of the past. What would you choose? The 1966 World Cup final? Botham’s Ashes? Serena’s first Grand Slam?
Well, soon you might be able to. Rematch, a kind of Secret Cinema for sport, intends to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of some of the most significant contests in history.
Its first production, Wimbledon Rematch 1980, which re-staged the epic final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, scooped a creative award from Campaign magazine in 2019.
Its next focuses on the most famous boxing match of all time, the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, and is set to run in London early next year.
“If you’re really boiling it down, it’s a time machine,” is how founder Richard Ayers describes the concept to City A.M.
Sports tech entrepreneur Ayers, who built digital agency Seven League and sold it to IMG, got the idea for Rematch from “going to immersive theatre stuff 10 years ago”.
But he also credits a trip with a colleague to a WWE wrestling show, famed for its soap opera storylines and theatrical set pieces, with flicking a switch.
“All the language he [the colleague] was using around this notionally sports event was arts and theatre language,” he says. “And there was something bugging me. Why aren’t we doing this?”
Rematch: Wimbledon to Rumble in the Jungle
Wimbledon Rematch 1980 was in effect a pilot staged in association with the All England Club, commercially facilitated by sponsors and with a run of just five performances.
But its warm reception helped Ayers raise almost £2m in funding to begin work on the Rumble in the Jungle, which he hopes will run for three months in London before touring internationally.
Among a clutch of high-profile names from sport and creative industries to have invested are Immersive Everywhere, the company behind the Great Gatsby and Peaky Blinders shows, Arsenal commercial director Juliet Slot and advertising guru Trevor Beattie.
Beattie’s interest goes beyond the mere financial: the self-styled “world’s biggest Ali fan” is also contributing to the production and marketing of the show and is keen to lend items from his personal treasure trove of Ali memorabilia to the experience.
“Some projects I’ll invest in but I don’t want anything to do with it. Others I’ll offer my services creatively but I’m not going to invest. But with this I’m all in. There’s no aspect I don’t want my paws on,” he told City A.M.
“Ali means everything to me. I hear kids talking about the GOAT [greatest of all time], in terms of Lionel Messi and footballers, and it makes me sneer and smile a bit.
“Because I think you’ll find the GOAT is Ali. He literally created that acronym. Ali’s the GOAT; the rest of them are sheep. He’s always relevant.”
‘A whole new sports entertainment product’
Rematch experiences include not just a staging of the sporting event but also the music, stylings and food and drink of the time and place.
The Rumble in the Jungle works especially well because Kinshasa also hosted the Zaire 74 music festival, featuring James Brown and BB King, alongside the fight.
Ayers wants future Rematch shows to be based on events with similar cultural as well as sporting resonance.
Ideas under consideration include the 1990 World Cup, which catapulted Paul Gascoigne to superstardom and took football to the middle classes to a soundtrack of New Order and Luciano Pavarotti.
Rematch’s business plan is based on one major production a year generating revenue from tickets, merchandise, food and drink, sponsorship and advertising.
Ayers says extra income will come from smaller, team-specific shows, and a digital experience via augmented or virtual reality which can be offered remotely and promises scalability.
“It’s a whole new sports entertainment product,” he adds.
Why Rematch is banking on value of experiences
But if part of the magic of sport lies in its unpredictability, doesn’t the fact that attendees know the outcome diminish its value?
“This is where the immersive matters,” he says, before quoting a colleague’s reasoning: “It’s like Romeo and Juliet. We all know they die at the end, but it’s the journey.”
For Beattie, the business case for Rematch lies in his belief that people are increasingly choosing doing things over buying things.
“Objects are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. We don’t have love letters or records any more; it’s all in the Cloud,” he says.
“We have experiences and I think people are willing to pay for extraordinary experiences; that’s where those who do have money will spend it.”