SAM'S CLUB MARKETS 'PASSION' TO CHURCHES

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Sam's Club here is marketing a bulk "church pack" of "The Passion of the Christ" movie to church groups, the company said.Sam's started selling 50 packs of the "Passion" release on DVD and VHS, for $898 and $795 respectively, to churches, religious organizations, seminaries and theological schools at the beginning of June, said Jolanda Stewart, spokeswoman, Sam's Club. The offer

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Sam's Club here is marketing a bulk "church pack" of "The Passion of the Christ" movie to church groups, the company said.

Sam's started selling 50 packs of the "Passion" release on DVD and VHS, for $898 and $795 respectively, to churches, religious organizations, seminaries and theological schools at the beginning of June, said Jolanda Stewart, spokeswoman, Sam's Club. The offer ends July 31.

The "church pack" offer fits in with the warehouse club operator's focus on supplying small businesses, Stewart said. This business philosophy of the Wal-Mart division includes religious groups.

"Churches and religious organizations are one of the key segments that we target [within the business groups served]. This offering makes perfect sense," said Stewart.

"In light of the mega-ministry trend, and the majority of ministries having libraries and/or bookstores with items for resale, this is the perfect synergy," she said.

"'The Passion of the Christ' is a very unique title and will be sold in ways that no home video release has ever been sold," said Bill Bryant, vice president of sales, Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. "It is not surprising that retail organizations are approaching church organizations to purchase this title for resale."

Ingram is also offering bulk packs of "Passion" to its customers. The video distributor has Church packs available for sale directly to Church organizations, as well as to retail organizations that wish to purchase from Ingram and sell to Church organizations, Bryant said.

The bulk packs at Sam's Club are targeted for groups with a religious affiliation, but any member can purchase them, Stewart said.

This distribution of movies directly to organizations compares to a recent industry trend of smaller retailers buying products in bulk from mass merchants and clubs for resale, said industry sources.

"This is an interesting step towards using the mass merchant channel as a substitute for the wholesale channel in reaching the ultimate retailer outlet," pointed out Bob Alexander, president Alexander & Associates, New York. The formality of the Sam's Club "Passion" offer sets it apart from individual buying efforts, he added.

The potential effect on traditional video distribution channels and wholesalers could wreak havoc, Alexander said, but it bears more observation. The impact could be wider than just religious titles if Sam's decision were to extend to secular releases, he pointed out.

Currently, Sam's is considering religious and secular titles for future bulk pack offers, said Stewart, who declined to name specific titles.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Beverly Hills, Calif., the distributor of the film, declined to comment on the Sam's Club offering.

For Sam's, the opportunity could be very positive, Alexander said. Thus far, sales of the "church packs" have exceeded company expectations, according to Stewart.

"The significance for us as a retailer is that we are able to provide merchandise that churches and religious organizations need, outside of the janitorial, paper products and food items. We've become a purchasing agent or a solution for that particular segment where they can get their audio, visual, digital and musical needs met at Sam's Club," she said.

Despite this, some industry observers think this type of video distribution relationship with religious groups wouldn't work with other titles.

"I do not see a precedent being set, and do not expect for retailers to approach church organizations again until such time that another film similar to 'The Passion of the Christ' is released," said Ingram's Bryant.

Twentieth Century Fox is offering bulk church packs and customizable slipcases through a number of purveyors. Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, is offering bulk packs of the release at $975 for the DVD and $775 for VHS through the Web site www.the-passionofthechrist.com. Church groups were made aware of the offering via a postcard mailing campaign from the film's producers, said Brian Frey, spokesman, Giant Eagle.

Others offering the church packs include: Amazon.com; Blockbuster; Buy.com; Tower Records; Alliance Entertainment; Baker & Taylor; Entertainment Resource; VPD; Hastings; and WaxWorks Online.

Top 5 Supermarket Video Sell-Through Titles

Rank, Last Week: Title (Weeks Out), Studio, DVD Retail

1, N. Mystic River, Warner, $27.95

2, N. Along Came Polly, Warner, $26.98

3, 1. Lord Of The Rings: Return of the King (2), New Line /Warner $29.95

4, 2. Miracle (3), Buena Vista, $29.99

5, 3. The Last Samurai (5), Warner, $29.99

N = New

As of June 13, 2004

This chart, tailored for the supermarket video market, is based on information taken from more than 1,000 supermarket rental locations serviced by Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn.