Todd Halstead, Director of Government Relations & Strategy Development at NATO offers the following update on advocacy efforts performed by NATO and its members. Reprinted from Boxoffice Pro’s March/April 2022 issue.
Representing more than 35,000 screens, NATO is the nation’s leading trade association dedicated to advancing the moviegoing experience. NATO achieves its mission through member-driven strategic initiatives that range from industry advocacy and promotion to development of tools and resources that help exhibitors succeed as cultural and economic hubs in their communities. A keystone of NATO’s strategic foundation is advocating on federal legislative and regulatory policies to create a pro-exhibition business environment. These advocacy efforts not only benefit exhibitors—large and small, chains and independents—but they are also critical to the success of the local communities that NATO members serve and the nation’s economy.
In addition to the more than $16 billion that U.S. cinemas generate in nonpandemic years, a recent Ernst & Young study commissioned by NATO found that moviegoers drive billions of dollars in national spending to nearby businesses. This study confirmed what we already knew: cinemas are business anchors and economic multipliers from Main Street to the nation’s urban centers. That’s why NATO and its affiliated Regional Associations have spent decades shaping local, state, and federal legislative and regulatory policies. Through these nonpartisan efforts, we champion public policies that create an environment where cinemas can invigorate and revitalize neighborhoods, drive foot traffic to local businesses, foster cultural vibrancy, and create employment opportunities in communities where jobs can be few and far between.
It is clear that helping cinemas survive the pandemic will help many other businesses rebound as well. And because of the efforts of NATO and its members over the past two years, members of Congress learned how important it was to take action to help struggling exhibitors. NATO and its coalition allies successfully advocated for bipartisan Covid relief measures that served as critical lifelines to help movie theaters bridge the pandemic—from changes to net operating losses rules and Economic Injury Disaster Loans that provided infusions of cash to establishment of the Paycheck Protection Program and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Additionally, NATO has continued to focus efforts on nonpandemic-related issues important to exhibitors, including its successful work preventing changes to music licensing rules that would have cost domestic exhibitors more than $200 million per year. Throughout the pandemic, NATO has also worked closely with our Regional Association partners as they face new legislative challenges at the state and local levels of government. Regional Associations successfully lobbied state policymakers to reopen our industry and to enact tens of millions of dollars in grant assistance to the industry’s largest and smallest companies.
Today, the pandemic still looms large over the motion picture industry, and more work is to be done to help cinemas write their comeback stories during the great recovery. As Covid-19 transitions to an endemic disease, we are already seeing a return to the legislative and regulatory challenges our industry faced before the pandemic. That’s why it is critical that exhibitors keep up their grassroots advocacy efforts. While NATO and the Regional Associations advocate for the movie theater industry year-round in the halls of Congress, state capitols, and local councils, the most effective strategy in our kit bag is grassroots advocacy driven by exhibitors. When NATO members mobilize and engage in critical advocacy efforts, the industry projects its collective voice to educate elected officials and shape policies at all levels of government.
And if grassroots advocacy is about finding strength in numbers, NATO members answered that call to action during the darkest days of the pandemic. In the face of existential crisis, exhibitors harnessed the strength of perseverance to influence public opinion and government action by meeting with their lawmakers and generating more than 378,000 advocacy messages since March 2020. Because of those efforts, policymakers throughout the country have recognized the cinema industry’s economic and cultural importance and provided industry-saving financial support that kept cinemas afloat with programs and funds to cover fixed costs and pay employees.
If you haven’t joined the growing number of industry advocates addressing pressing legislative and regulatory issues, here are a few ways you can join the cause:
Join the NATO Advocacy Council
The NATO Advocacy Council brings together exhibitors united by the common goal of advocating for our nation’s essential cinema industry. Through advocacy updates, NATO Advocacy Council members are kept abreast of legislative and regulatory policy issues and other activities affecting the association community. While grassroots campaigns create a groundswell that mobilizes exhibitors to contact their elected officials about important policy issues, Advocacy Council members are dedicated to building networks and strong relationships with policymakers that bring an extra level of influence that can make a critical difference when it matters most.
Participate in NATO’s Hill Day
NATO’s Hill Day is a chance for exhibitors from across the country to advocate for their businesses and provide lawmakers with a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges their constituents face. Last November, a record number of exhibitors representing cinemas in all 50 states converged on the U.S. Capitol to ask Congress to support the industry’s legislative priorities. The enthusiasm with which members of Congress and their staffs met with exhibitors demonstrates that lawmakers know how essential cinemas are to their communities and local economies. NATO encourages its members to actively participate in this important part of the political process to develop lasting relationships, thank lawmakers for their support, and discuss issues that impact their businesses.
Invite Lawmakers to Visit Your Cinema
When Congress is not in session, lawmakers like to return home and visit with constituents. This presents a great opportunity to invite lawmakers to visit your movie theater and show firsthand how the decisions they make on Capitol Hill affect your business and the local community. Members of Congress want to hear your opinion, and congressional site visits are an informal yet effective advocacy strategy that help you establish strong, long-lasting relationships with your lawmakers and their staff.
The NATO Political Action Committee provides a unified voice for movie theater owners and operators to support pro-exhibition legislators and candidates. With the support of our members, NATOPAC is a foundational element of the industry’s efforts to build and maintain relationships with political leaders who understand the value of our industry in the marketplace and its positive impact on the cultural landscape of America.
As an exhibitor, you have a great story to tell and the ability to influence public policies that will help our industry bring the shared cultural experience of moviegoing to communities for generations to come. When NATO or your Regional Associations issue a call to action, it is critical that you join the cause at the ground level. All politics is local, and you have the home field advantage.