With the Alamo Drafthouse cited as the best-ever movie theater by Wired, Entertainment Weekly and Time, League’s Austin theaters created the ethos of eating and drinking well while watching great movies; now, he's pushing that ideal across the country with new theater openings and distributing about one movie each month through Drafthouse Films.
League is a curious combination of true believer and hard-nosed businessman. He's a film fan whose prior jobs were being a steakhouse busboy and a Shell Oil engineer and who drunkenly won a cricket-eating contest at the SXSW premiere of "Bellflower." He's also devoted to Net Promoter software, which turns customer satisfaction into hard metrics. "We look at it every day," said League.
Creating satisfaction is more than a matter of serving queso and wine in his 14 theaters; it’s also creating the annual genre-celebrating Fantastic Fest; Mondo, which creates gallery-quality film posters and apparel; teaming up with Martin Scorsese's nonprofit The Film Foundation to preserve 35mm cinema and Drafthouse Films, his distribution arm that handles films like the upcoming "The Act of Killing" and the Oscar-nominated "Bullhead."
He also has his own definition of customers and of satisfaction. For example, the infamous texting girl from the "Magnited States of America" is not his idea of a customer; satisfaction came with Alamo’s viral video demonstrating that cell phones and their users were really and truly neither wanted or desired in his theaters, ticket purchase be damned.
And that's what lies at the core of League's Drafthouse vision: It's not just about creating a theater chain bent on arthouse domination (although it may well be that, too); it's also about his belief that if he builds it, they will come -- a growing audience of young cinema fanatics who share his passion for movies. "We want to build audiences for specific films," he said. “Audiences are fragile. It's about being a cinephile and infusing that into our movie theater chain."
Expanding while maintaining high customer satisfaction scores.
Pissing off Austin with a new menu. "We rushed the process," he said. "Every time we rush the process, you fall on your face a little bit."
Maintaining the Alamo personality while going national. "I get accusations of sellout all the time,” he says. "That's my primary job, to make sure I don't."
Through 2017, League is on pace to have 50 locations across the country. That said, "If we start to lose money, it all crumbles."