In the streaming service’s latest offering, the intrigue comes courtesy of the national contending cheerleading programs at Navarro College and Trinity Valley Community College, rival two-year schools outside of Dallas.
Navarro was the original host of the Emmy Award-winning series, which made its debut in January 2020, and has produced both incredible spectacle and horrifying scandal. Along the way, the show has catapulted several of its subjects into social media stardom, including Navarro’s head cheer coach, Monica Aldama, who now has more than 700,000 Instagram followers and recently published a bestselling book.
For the institution, however, the payoff has been less certain.
In 2018, Navarro signed a deal with a production company in which the school agreed to be paid $30,000 for the rights to film a season of a then-untitled cheerleading documentary, according to a copy of the rights agreement obtained by Sportico.
“Everybody thinks we made a million dollars off of the show, and as you can see from the contract, we did not,” said Stacie Sipes, Navarro’s director of marketing and public information, who makes a brief appearance in the new season. (TVCC likewise received a $30,000 location fee.)
Noting that the series—and its cult following—took off just before the start of the pandemic, Sipes says Navarro hasn’t seen its increased name recognition translate into student enrollment.
“We have had declining enrollment,” said Sipes. “I could probably name four or five students that we heard came here because they heard about our college [through Cheer]… As Monica and I have both said previously: We were hoping not to get fired. We just wanted to have a really good show produced about her program; we never really thought about having people flocking to our school.”
Navarro’s location agreement provided Cheer’s producers with an exclusive option to renew for five additional academic years, at the same fee. The production company “shall have the exclusive rights to film and exploit the Cheerleading Athletics as part of the Series,” the agreement states, forbidding Navarro from authorizing any other scripted or documentary show to feature its campus or cheerleading program during the term period.
Boardwalk Pictures executive vice president Dane Lillegard, who signed the agreement, declined to comment about how the financial terms were arrived at.
In addition, Navarro also signed a merchandise rights license agreement with Netflix in September 2020, which entitled the institution to 50% of revenue from any consumer goods Netflix sold that bore the school’s name and marks. This past summer, Netflix announced the launch of an online store that would sell exclusive limited editions of products tied to its shows. However, Sipes says that nothing has so far come from this for Navarro, though the agreement remains in effect through mid-2023.
Cheer followed on the success of Netflix’s juco football redemption saga, Last Chance U, which first aired in 2016.
That series’ first three seasons tracked the football team at East Mississippi Community College. The show’s producers, which included Conde Nast Entertainment and The Roush-Wagner Company, agreed to pay $50,000 to EMCC per season, as well as a 10% stake in contingent compensation. Such backend deals are typically reserved for Hollywood stars, as opposed to the proprietors of far-flung filming locations.
The revenue share ultimately netted EMCC an additional $31,605, which was paid as a charitable contribution in 2018 to EMCC’s Development Foundation, according to records.
The fourth season of Last Chance U migrated west to feature the football team at Independence Community College in Kansas. This time, Conde Nast paid ICC only $30,000 for its location and cooperation agreement, and there was no revenue-sharing component to the deal. California’s Laney College was selected as the site for Season 5. Conde Nast (in conjunction with Boardwalk Pictures) paid $50,000 to the Peralta Community College District for permission to film Last Chance U on Laney’s Oakland campus.
In email negotiations, Laney initially tried to remove language in a draft agreement that would prevent it from seeking injunctive or equitable relief in the event of a dispute. The producers declined to make that change, offering instead that Laney would be allowed to view any on-campus filming prior to its airing.
Last March, Netflix premiered the spinoff series, Last Chance U: Basketball, which featured the men’s team at East Los Angeles College. For this, Boardwalk Pictures paid the school $56,000 for 14 days of filming between November 2019 and March 2020.
Notably, the filming permit included terms that forbid the crew and cast from “wandering within the premises.” It also evinced detailed concerns about the care of the school’s facilities during production, down to the specific demand that “bubble wrap shall be used on railings and any sensitive furniture.”