June 20, 2020
AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron said he didn’t want to get pulled into the politics of mandating masks in regards to the coronavirus pandemic. But apparently that’s exactly what happened as the nation’s largest exhibitor abruptly reversed policy allowing patrons not to wear masks in theaters when the chain re-opens 450 locations on July 15.
With box office revenue down 65% year-to-date due to COVID-19 shuttering all movie screens, AMC, like other exhibitors, finds itself attempting cover both sides of the political fence when it comes consumer health, safety and personal freedom.
Aron, in an interview with Fox Business, said that within minutes of AMC announcing masks would be optional in select locations, it received pushback from consumers.
“We began to get an immediate outcry from our loyal customer base,” Aron said. “It became clear to us very quickly that they wanted masks to be worn by all of our guests all across the country. And so that’s what we announced today.”
Aron said the reversal underscores the importance of companies listening to their customers.
“If our guests are happier, then we’re happier too,” he said.
Competitor Regal Cinemas quickly followed AMC’s lead reversing a mask-optional policy for patrons.
“As related to our employees, guests will also be required to wear masks. Disposable masks will be made available as needed,” Regal said in a statement.
At the same time, Aron acknowledged that with parts of the country operating as if no pandemic exists, AMC didn’t want to take sides. But following consumer input, as well public health experts, the chain is now taking a stand.
“We’re going to live with it,” Aron said. “And we’re going to try to educate people in those parts of the nation who aren’t thrilled with [wearing masks], that they’ve got to do this because they’re protecting their own health and protecting the health of their fellow moviegoers.”
He reiterated that AMC’s updated “safe & clean” sanitation policies company-wide include social distancing, constant cleaning protocols, limiting the number of patrons in screenings, contactless ticketing, and mobile phone concession orders.
“We’ve gone real high tech route, we’ve invested millions of dolars to order electrostatic sprayers, heavy vacuums and air ventilation filters,” Aron said. “We really are committed to operating our theaters safely and cleanly for our guests. Convincing our guests that our theaters are safe is the only we are going to them back into our theaters.”
The executive said media speculation about AMC’s financial situation, including bankruptcy concerns, was legitimate as the chain’s revenue stream literally stopped overnight in mind-March. But raising funds ($500 million) via the markets, Aron said the chain has enough cash to fund the company through November — without selling a single ticket.
Indeed, Aron said that in 2019 AMC sold just 17% of its available seating all year long, suggesting the chain would be fine even with reduced seating capacity due to social distancing.
“We’re very confident about our ability to make it through this,” he said.