TikTok Owner Picks Oracle as ‘Trusted Tech Partner,’ Rejects Microsoft/Walmart Bid

ByteDance, the Chinese owner of social media video app TikTok, has reportedly selected Oracle Corp. to acquire its U.S. operations as a “trusted tech partner.” The deal, which must be approved by U.S. and Chinese regulators, amounts to a high-priced partnership rather than outright asset sale, according to media reports.

Beijing-based ByteDance had previously rejected a joint offer by Microsoft and Walmart, Microsoft disclosed in a Sept. 13 blog post. The amount of the software and retail giants’ bid has not been disclosed. The offer by Oracle reportedly hovers around $20 billion.

“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft,” the software giant wrote. “We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests.”

TikTok has emerged into a social media phenomenon during the coronavirus pandemic generating upwards of 100 million users monthly watching both self-generated and third-party videos. It has also come into the crosshairs of the Trump Administration, which considers the app a national security threat, among other concerns. Trump has warned the government would ban the app in the U.S. by Sept. 15 unless it was sold to an American company.

Specifically, the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command claim that Chinese control of TikTok’s computer code could influence distribution of propaganda and politically-motivated content to end-users.

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Microsoft said it would have made the required security, privacy and online safety adjustments to appease both federal and Chinese regulators. The Xbox manufacturer said it would have taken steps to prevent the spread of disinformation on the app — something it made clear to ByteDance.

“We look forward to seeing how the service evolves in these important areas,” Microsoft wrote.

Whether Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s personal relationship with Trump played a factor in the deal remains to be seen. Ellison has hosted a fundraiser for Trump, and Oracle CEO Safra Catz worked on Trump’s transition team in 2016.

Merchandising: Steelbooks Galore After Labor Day

Several Steelbook editions of new and catalog titles hit shelves Sept. 8, and not just at Best Buy, which is best known for offering the exclusive packaging variant.

Best Buy offered the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook of Lionsgate’s Ghost in the Shell at $19.99 to mark the 25th Anniversary of the anime movie.

A few titles from Universal Pictures also made their way to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray at Best Buy via the Steelbook, at $22.99 apiece: 47 Ronin, 2020’s The Invisible Man, and the 60h anniversary re-release of Psycho.

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Best Buy also offered an exclusive edition of Warner’s animated Superman: Man of Tomorrow, but it wasn’t a Steelbook. Best Buy offered a $29.99 gift set of the film that paired the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack with a figurine of the Parasite character.

Best Buy’s ‘Superman: Man of Tomorrow’ with Parasite figurine

To get Man of Tomorrow in Steelbook packaging, fans had to head to Target, which offered the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the movie in the collector’s packaging for $19.99 (though the box art was the same as the standard release).

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Another Steelbook offered through Target was Lionsgate’s Rob Zombie Trilogy Blu-ray set at $29.99, containing House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects and 3 From Hell.

Target’s ‘Rob Zombie Trilogy’ Steelbook

Target also offered an exclusive Jojo Siwa Party Pack at $19.99, a three-DVD bundle of Nickelodeon’s “Jojo Siwa” programs

Target’s ‘Jojo Siwa’ bundle

Speaking of Nickelodeon, Amazon had the Paw Patrol: Jet to the Rescue DVD Sept. 3, before other stores stocked in Sept. 8.

Walmart Bows $98 Subscription Program — Without Free Access to Movies, TV Shows and Music

Walmart Sept. 1 unveiled a much-hyped “Walmart+” $98 annual subscription program aimed at competing with the Amazon Prime membership. While the $12.95 monthly program, which goes into effect Sept. 15,  is $21 cheaper than Prime (over a year), Walmart’s platform lacks key Prime features such as streaming video, music and digital books, among other perks.

Walmart said the aforementioned features found on Prime could be added over time. Some observers had felt Walmart would bundle Vudu.com to the subscription service. Instead, the world’s largest retailer sold the platform to NBCUniversal’s Fandango.

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What Walmart+ does offer is free same-day shipping on myriad store items (over $35) that can be shipped from more than 4,700 stores nationwide; a 5 cents per gallon gasoline discount; and the ability to scan items on the Walmart app and pay without waiting in line.

Calling it the “ultimate life hack,” Walmart said the platform would replace “Delivery Unlimited,” currently available in about 1,000 stores. Walmart’s e-commerce business grew 97% in the most-recent fiscal period to $10 billion.

Chuck Grom, retail analyst with Gordon Haskett Research Advisors, cautions that consumers have been inundated with subscription programs this year, including Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock. He wonders whether the appetite for another plan exists.

“The jury is still out on the ultimate potential of this new offering,” Grom wrote in a note.

Walmart has launched other tech features, including a disc-to-digital platform with studios that enabled users to buy digital codes of their DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies. The program was subsequently offloaded to Vudu, which then allowed users to obtain digital codes from their home.

Walmart Joins Microsoft in TikTok Bid

Walmart has reportedly joined Microsoft in the ongoing bidding for TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media app with more than 100 million monthly users in the United States and 800 million globally.

TikTok, whose CEO Kevin Mayer resigned earlier in the day, has been caught in the crosshairs of the Trump Administration’s growing tech spat with China. Trump issued an executive order that seeks to ban TikTok in the U.S. if its Chinese ownership isn’t removed — citing national security issues.

Walmart confirmed to CNBC it has joined Microsoft in bidding that could fetch upwards of $20 billion for the app. Oracle reportedly is also interested in TikTok.

Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargroves (formerly with Blockbuster) wouldn’t comment how the retailer and Microsoft would split ownership of TikTok, or whether the retail behemoth would incorporate the app (and its user-generated videos) in its pending subscription-based Walmart+ streaming platform.

“We believe a potential relationship with TikTok, in partnership with Microsoft, could provide Walmart with an important way … to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses,” Hargroves said. “We are confident that a Walmart and Microsoft partnership would meet both the expectations of U.S. TikTok users while satisfying the concerns of U.S. government regulators.”

Walmart has dabbled in entertainment tech before, acquiring transactional movie platform Vudu.com for $100 million, and becoming the first retailer to offer digital codes for studio DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies. The retail behemoth recently sold Vudu (which had absorbed the disc-to-digital business) to Fandango.

Daniel Ives, managing director and technology analyst at Wedbush Securities, believes TikTok would be good for for Walmart’s e-commerce business.

“When you think right now about going up against the 800-pound gorilla, Amazon, obviously [Walmart has] been behind the eight ball, Ives told CNBC. “But Walmart could use this as a golden opportunity to partner with Microsoft and monetize the TikTok base, which could start to rival Instagram in the next few years just given its global presence.”


Merchandising: ‘Max Winslow’ Hits Blu-ray at Walmart

The week of Aug. 25 again saw most notable new releases arriving on shelves without much in the way of retailer exclusives.

Walmart offered a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of a young adult movie called Max Winslow and the House of Secrets, from Skip Stone Pictures. The story concerns five students who compete in a series of games to win a mansion from an eccentric billionaire (Chad Michael Murray).

Best Buy used its home entertainment Top Deals section to unveil preorders for more Steelbook Blu-ray editions it will offer in the future.

Among the new batch of Steelbook preorders includes a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Warner’s Goodfellas, due Sept. 15; a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Sony Pictures’ Whiplash, due Sept. 22; a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Sony Pictures’ District 9, due Oct. 13; and a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Warner’s V for Vendetta, due Nov. 3.

Best Buy also has an exclusive edition of Warner’s Superman: Man of Tomorrow animated movie on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Sept. 8, packed with a figurine.

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Once again, a number of Targets didn’t even bother stocking the new titles in a timely manner. A store in Tustin, Calif., had the shelf tags for the titles out, but left them empty well into the afternoon.

Walmart U.S. Sees 9.3% Uptick in Same-Store Sales, 97% Spike in E-Commerce

Walmart Inc. delivered healthy financials Aug. 18, with same-store sales at U.S. locations for the second quarter of 2020 up 9.3% from the year-ago quarter.

The big surprise, though, was a near doubling in online sales. Walmart tallied a 97% uptick in e-commerce sales in the United States, and a 39% gain overall.

Total revenue was $137.7 billion, an increase of $7.4 billion, or 5.6%.

In the United States, Walmart’s “essential” status during the pandemic — a designation due to the chain’s large grocery sections — allowed its stores to remain open even after other businesses closed in mid-March.

On an earnings call, president and CEO Douglas McMillon said Walmart’s strong store performance was fueled by “government stimulus, more people eating at home, a focus by customers on entertaining themselves at home, and investing in their homes and yards.”

“We also had some headwinds,” he noted, “including reduced store hours and out-of-stocks.”

Doug McMillon

McMillon said Walmart has hired more than 500,000 new associates since the beginning of the year.

In an interview with CNBC, Walmart Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs echoed McMillon’s thoughts that government stimulus checks played a big role in the sales gain — but warned of uncertainty ahead.

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“Stimulus was definitely impactful to the consumer in the second quarter, and we’re watching what’s going on in Washington, and how we’re going to progress with a new stimulus package,” Biggs said. “I think certainly it would be helpful for consumers.”

On the earnings call, McMillon said that during the second quarter, “our
customers were spending so much more time at home that we experienced strong sales in categories like TVs, computing, and connected home. Customers also took advantage of time for outdoor entertainment and sports, which led to strength in those categories. With significant operating restrictions for restaurants across the country, families continue to prepare more meals at home, and our business has benefited from that trend.”

He added that while “there’s volatility in the supply chain levels, we’re starting to see some categories recover in terms of in-stock.”

Home Entertainment Giants Walmart, Target to Release Financial Results This Week

Following home entertainment studios’ strong quarterly fiscal results, top retailers Walmart and Target are set to release fiscal results this week that should underscore ongoing consumer demand for both physical and digital movies and TV shows.

Walmart, which reports fiscal results on Aug. 18, is the world’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailer and top seller of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, with more than 5,000 outlets in the U.S. and more than 6,000 international stores.

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Long a packaged-media promotional juggernaut, on big releases Walmart will often do a gift set pairing a Blu-ray combo pack with a collectible such as a plush or keychain. The chain also offers exclusive bare-bones DVDs of Warner titles.

Target Corp., which reports results on Aug. 19, markets home video at more than 1,800 stores with point-of-purchase displays and significant shelf space. Like Walmart, Target has long been a big seller of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Disney in 2019 launched 25 branded sections within select Target stores, with 40 additional locations opening by this October.

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Target’s go-to marketing angle is the behind-the-scenes booklet add-on to packaged-media releases. For instance, for Onward, the latest Pixar release, Target offered a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a gallery booklet and slipcover for $34.99.

Target has seen increased sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, reporting a 141% increase in e-commerce revenue for the first quarter (ended March 31) as consumers stocked up on lower-margin products online. CEO Brian Cornell said Target.com saw an increase of 5 million customers in the quarter, while more than 2 million used the drive-up service. The chain said more than 70 million people have downloaded the Target Circle app to access e-commerce.

Best Buy reports fiscal results on Aug. 25.

Sony Pictures Joins Drive-In Movie Marketing Bandwagon

Sony Pictures announced it is offering consumers access to branded catalog movies and new releases in a drive-in atmosphere on the studio’s backlot in Culver City, Calif., beginning Aug. 14 and on subsequent Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays thereafter.

Showtimes, which begin at 8 p.m. PT, will be limited to 75 cars paying $30 per vehicle. The movie line-up includes Baby Driver, Bad Boys for Life, Bloodshot, Don’t Breathe, Ghostbusters (1984), Grown Ups, Jumanji: The Next Level, The Karate Kid (1984), Men in Black (1997), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, among others. Tickets will be handled by Atom Tickets.

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Sony will also debut The Broken Hearts Gallery, a romantic comedy from executive producer Selena Gomez.

The drive-in campaign, which is similar to marketing efforts currently in operation at 160 Walmart parking lots and select third-party venues into October, is in response to ongoing closures of movie theaters due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Merchandising: Best Buy Celebrates 25th Anniversary of ‘Casper’ With Steelbook

The latest catalog title to get a special Best Buy Steelbook exclusive Blu-ray is Universal’s 1995 family film Casper.

The film, a live-action version of the “Casper the Friendly Ghost” cartoons, is offered at Best Buy as a 25th anniversary Steelbook Blu-ray edition at $14.99. The movie version stars Christina Ricci and Bull Pullman.

Otherwise, the DVD and Blu-ray sections at the major retailers are starting to see some neglect as the pandemic wears on, simultaneously upping the profile of digital delivery while limiting the number of blockbuster new releases hitting shelves. A Target store in Tustin, Calif., hadn’t even bothered putting the new Aug. 11 titles on shelves as of late afternoon Tuesday.

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While Target hasn’t offered much in the way of DVD deals lately, it does have 20% off select books and 25% off vinyl records with the purchase of another record.

Walmart Formally Bows Free Drive-In Parking Lot Movies

Walmart has officially launched its branded drive-in movie campaign taking place across 160 supercenter store parking lots throughout the Southeast, Midwest, Texas, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and New Jersey through October.

In an announcement on its Twitter page, Walmart said the pop-up drive-in program (in association with Tribeca Enterprises) will screen one select studio classic at various locations. Titles include Wonder Woman (2017), Spy Kids (2001), Space Jam (1996), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), Ghostbusters (1984), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Black Panther (2018), E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Friday Night Lights (2004).

Gates open at 6 p.m. and the screening begins at 7:30 p.m. No late entry is allowed. Tickets are free, but must be requested in advance. Tickets will not be available at the gate. Movie audio is transmitted via car radio or handheld FM radio receiver. No alcohol is permitted and moviegoers must wear face masks when leaving the automobile.

Walmart drive-in movie schedule:

Attalla – 10/6/20
Attalla – 10/7/20
Gadsden – 10/9/20
Gadsden – 10/10/20

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Bentonville – 9/15/20
Bentonville – 9/16/20
Rogers – 9/18/20
Rogers – 9/19/20
Springdale – 9/22/20
Springdale – 9/23/20
Cabot – 9/25/20
Cabot – 9/26/20
Bryant – 9/29/20
Bryant – 9/30/20

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Grand Junction – 9/11/20
Grand Junction – 9/12/20
Timnath – 9/15/20
Timnath – 9/16/20
Pueblo West – 9/18/20
Pueblo West – 9/19/20
Pueblo – 9/22/20
Pueblo – 9/23/20

Pinellas Park – 8/14/20
Pinellas Park – 8/15/20
Wesley Chapel – 8/18/20
Wesley Chapel – 8/19/20
Bradenton – 8/21/20
Bradenton – 8/22/20
Miami – 8/25/20
Miami – 8/26/20
Pembroke Pines – 8/28/20
Pembroke Pines – 8/29/20
Avon Park – 9/1/20
Avon Park – 9/2/20
Winter Haven – 9/4/20
Winter Haven – 9/5/20
Mulberry – 9/8/20
Mulberry – 9/9/20
Lakeland – 9/11/20
Lakeland – 9/12/20
Tampa – 9/15/20
Tampa – 9/16/20
Spring Hill – 9/18/20
Spring Hill – 9/19/20
Inverness – 9/22/20
Inverness – 9/23/20

Statesboro – 9/25/20
Statesboro – 9/26/20
Athens – 10/13/20
Athens – 10/14/20
Loganville – 10/16/20
Warner Robins – 10/16/20
Loganville – 10/17/20
Warner Robins – 10/17/20
Columbus – 10/20/20
Fort Oglethorpe – 10/20/20
Columbus – 10/21/20
Fort Oglethorpe – 10/21/20

Streamwood  – 8/14/20
Streamwood  – 8/15/20
Huntley  – 8/21/20
Huntley  – 8/22/20
DeKalb  – 8/25/20
DeKalb  – 8/26/20
Elgin  – 8/28/20
Elgin  – 8/29/20
Saint Charles  – 9/1/20
Saint Charles  – 9/2/20
Batavia  – 9/4/20
Batavia  – 9/5/20
Aurora  – 9/8/20
Aurora  – 9/9/20
New Lenox  – 9/11/20
New Lenox  – 9/12/20
Orland Hills  – 9/15/20
Orland Hills  – 9/16/20
Richton Park  – 9/18/20
Richton Park  – 9/19/20
Olympia Fields  – 9/22/20
Olympia Fields  – 9/23/20
Bourbonnais  – 9/29/20
Bourbonnais  – 9/30/20
Kankakee  – 10/2/20
Kankakee  – 10/3/20
Bloomington  – 10/6/20
Bloomington  – 10/7/20

Hammond – 9/25/20
Hammond – 9/26/20
Muncie – 10/9/20
Muncie – 10/10/20
Richmond – 10/13/20
Richmond – 10/14/20
Evansville – 10/16/20
Evansville – 10/17/20
Evansville – 10/20/20
Evansville – 10/21/20

Olathe – 8/14/20
Olathe – 8/15/20
Gardner – 8/18/20
Gardner – 8/19/20
Lawrence – 8/21/20
Lawrence – 8/22/20
Topeka – 8/25/20
Topeka – 8/26/20

Oak Grove – 9/18/20
Oak Grove – 9/19/20
Hopkinsville – 9/22/20
Hopkinsville – 9/23/20
Paducah – 9/25/20
Shepherdsville – 9/25/20
Paducah – 9/26/20
Shepherdsville – 9/26/20

Crowley – 10/2/20
Crowley – 10/3/20
New Iberia – 10/6/20
New Iberia – 10/7/20
Bossier City – 10/9/20
Bossier City – 10/10/20

Raymore – 10/16/20
Raymore – 10/17/20
Sedalia – 10/20/20
Sedalia – 10/21/20

Tupelo – 10/2/20
Tupelo – 10/3/20
Bellevue – 8/28/20
Bellevue – 8/29/20

New Jersey
Linden – 8/14/20
Linden – 8/15/20

New Mexico
Las Cruces – 9/25/20
Las Cruces – 9/26/20
Las Cruces – 9/29/20
Las Cruces – 9/30/20

Carson City – 8/21/20
Carson City – 8/22/20

Amelia – 9/29/20
Amelia – 9/30/20
Akron – 10/2/20
Akron – 10/3/20

Stillwater – 9/1/20
Stillwater – 9/2/20
Stillwater – 9/4/20
Stillwater – 9/5/20
Lawton – 9/8/20
Lawton – 9/9/20
Yukon – 9/11/20
Yukon – 9/12/20

Grants Pass – 8/18/20
Grants Pass – 8/19/20

Beaver Falls – 10/6/20
Beaver Falls – 10/7/20
West Mifflin – 10/9/20
West Mifflin – 10/10/20
North Huntingdon – 10/13/20
North Huntingdon – 10/14/20

South Carolina
North Charleston – 9/29/20
North Charleston – 9/30/20
Goose Creek – 10/2/20
Goose Creek – 10/3/20
Sumter – 10/6/20
Sumter – 10/7/20
North Augusta – 10/9/20
North Augusta – 10/10/20
Spartanburg – 10/13/20
Spartanburg – 10/14/20

Nashville – 8/18/20
Nashville – 8/19/20
Franklin – 8/21/20
Franklin – 8/22/20
Smyrna – 8/25/20
Smyrna – 8/26/20
La Vergne – 8/28/20
La Vergne – 8/29/20
Mount Juliet – 9/1/20
Mount Juliet – 9/2/20
Madison – 9/4/20
Madison – 9/5/20
Elizabethton – 9/8/20
Gallatin – 9/8/20
Elizabethton – 9/9/20
Gallatin – 9/9/20
Knoxville – 9/11/20
White House – 9/11/20
Knoxville – 9/12/20
White House – 9/12/20
Clarksville – 9/15/20
Knoxville – 9/15/20
Clarksville – 9/16/20
Knoxville – 9/16/20
Clinton – 9/18/20
Clinton – 9/19/20
Bristol – 9/22/20
Bristol – 9/23/20
Cleveland – 9/29/20
Cleveland – 9/30/20

Houston – 8/14/20
Prosper – 8/14/20
Houston – 8/15/20
Prosper – 8/15/20
New Caney – 8/18/20
Plano – 8/18/20
New Caney – 8/19/20
Plano – 8/19/20
Colony – 8/21/20
Spring – 8/21/20
Colony – 8/22/20
Spring – 8/22/20
College Station – 8/25/20
Frisco – 8/25/20
College Station – 8/26/20
Frisco – 8/26/20
Hickory Creek – 8/28/20
Katy – 8/28/20
Hickory Creek – 8/29/20
Katy – 8/29/20
Richmond – 9/1/20
Roanoke – 9/1/20
Richmond – 9/2/20
Roanoke – 9/2/20
Bedford – 9/4/20
Richmond – 9/4/20
Bedford – 9/5/20
Richmond – 9/5/20
Grand Prairie – 9/8/20
Pearland – 9/8/20
Grand Prairie – 9/9/20
Pearland – 9/9/20
Harker Heights – 9/11/20
Pearland – 9/11/20
Harker Heights – 9/12/20
Pearland – 9/12/20
Killeen – 9/15/20
La Marque – 9/15/20
Killeen – 9/16/20
La Marque – 9/16/20
Boerne – 9/18/20
League City – 9/18/20
Boerne – 9/19/20
League City – 9/19/20
Pasadena – 9/22/20
San Antonio – 9/22/20
Pasadena – 9/23/20
San Antonio – 9/23/20
San Antonio – 9/25/20
Vidor – 9/25/20
San Antonio – 9/26/20
Vidor – 9/26/20
San Antonio – 9/29/20
West Orange – 9/29/20
San Antonio – 9/30/20
West Orange – 9/30/20
McKinney – 10/2/20
San Angelo – 10/2/20
Schertz – 10/2/20
McKinney – 10/3/20
San Angelo – 10/3/20
Schertz – 10/3/20
Corpus Christi – 10/6/20
Irving – 10/6/20
San Angelo – 10/6/20
Corpus Christi – 10/7/20
Irving – 10/7/20
San Angelo – 10/7/20
Irving – 10/9/20
Rockwall – 10/9/20
Waco – 10/9/20
Irving – 10/10/20
Rockwall – 10/10/20
Waco – 10/10/20
Bellmead – 10/13/20
Denton – 10/13/20
Kilgore – 10/13/20
Wylie – 10/13/20
Bellmead – 10/14/20
Denton – 10/14/20
Kilgore – 10/14/20
Wylie – 10/14/20
Killeen – 10/16/20
Sherman – 10/16/20
Tyler – 10/16/20
Killeen – 10/17/20
Sherman – 10/17/20
Tyler – 10/17/20
Denison – 10/20/20
Murphy – 10/20/20
Tyler – 10/20/20
Denison – 10/21/20
Murphy – 10/21/20
Tyler – 10/21/20

Syracuse – 8/25/20
Syracuse – 8/26/20
American Fork – 8/28/20
American Fork – 8/29/20
Lindon – 9/1/20
Lindon – 9/2/20
Springville – 9/4/20
Springville – 9/5/20
Payson – 9/8/20
Payson – 9/9/20

Virginia Beach – 8/18/20
Virginia Beach – 8/19/20
Richmond – 8/21/20
Richmond – 8/22/20
Roanoke – 8/25/20
Roanoke – 8/26/20

West Virginia
Beckley – 8/28/20
Beckley – 8/29/20
Hurricane – 9/1/20
Hurricane – 9/2/20
Huntington – 9/4/20
Huntington – 9/5/20
Morgantown – 10/16/20
Morgantown – 10/17/20
Morgantown – 10/20/20
Morgantown – 10/21/20