Football fans will have a chance to watch Friday's Territorial Cup game between the University of Arizona and Arizona State University for free on a big-screen TV.

Make that a reeeeeally big, big-screen TV.

The Loft Cinema will show off its new cinema - complete with a 24-foot-wide screen - with a free showing of the annual UA-ASU football slugfest.

As part of a planned $2.5 million expansion and makeover for the nonprofit art house, the new 98-seat theater opened Nov. 9 in a converted auto-repair shop next door to The Loft's main cinema at 3233 E. Speedway.

The expansion also includes new digital projection equipment recently installed in the new theater and The Loft's main 500-seat cinema.

Besides growing physically, The Loft plans to widen its offerings - including showings of sporting events and TV shows with cultlike followings.

"We found that we could get the license for TV, so we bought the package," said Peggy Johnson, executive director of The Loft.

"It's just the first thing we're going to do," she said of the Territorial Cup screening. "We may do shows like 'Mad Men,' 'Breaking Bad,' we're going to do the inauguration, and maybe some basketball games."

Like most art-film houses, The Loft is focused mainly on screening independent, non-Hollywood films, including foreign films, cult classics and documentaries.

The only time The Loft has screened a TV broadcast, Johnson said, was a showing of the finale of the TV series "Lost" that packed the 500-seat theater in 2010.

Other new offerings include 3-D movies and possibly outdoor screenings and other, movie-related activities in two new patio areas.

"What we're trying to do is diversify our offerings," Johnson said, adding that the projection upgrades were necessary as more film goes digital.

The Loft recently started Reel Reads Book and Film Club - offering discussions and discounts on books made into movies, in conjunction with Antigone Books - and plans to add ballet, opera and more live theater on film.

Though it's been a non-profit organization since 2002, The Loft is run like a business and has operated in the black since 2006 with no government funding, Johnson said.

The Loft employs 22 people and has more than 3,000 memberships representing more than 5,000 individuals.

Since 2002, attendance at The Loft has more than tripled, with more than 150,000 people attending films in 2011. The Loft's annual budget has grown from about $500,000 in 2003, its first full year as the current nonprofit entity, to about $1.7 million now, Johnson said.

And like any business, The Loft has a strategic growth plan, now focused on the expansion.

Johnson said the auto-repair shop turned out to be the perfect structure for a theater.

The shop's high ceiling - designed to accommodate tall equipment like hydraulic lifts - allowed for the large screen and stadium-style seating, while an office loft was easily converted into an enclosed projection room.

Adding the third theater - besides the main theater and a 85-seat cinema upstairs - will allow The Loft to book more private-party rentals, which should help boost revenue, Johnson said.

"Before we opened the new theater, we turned down stuff all the time - that was one of our main motivations for doing this," she said.

Longer term, The Loft is working on a plan to upgrade the main building with a larger lobby and connect the new theater, possibly using shipping containers to form the connecting structure, Johnson said.

The Loft is in fundraising mode, having raised just over $1 million of the $2.5 million capital goal.

Major sponsors of The Loft include Cox Communications, which helped with the TV conversion equipment; and Bookmans Entertainment Exchange, which is sponsoring 3-D technology for viewing movies like Monty Python's "A Liar's Autobiography in 3-D," now playing in the new theater.

If you go

The Loft Cinema will host a special, free showing of the UA-ASU football game Friday night in its new theater just east of the main building at 3233 E. Speedway. The ESPN telecast begins at 8 p.m.

Space is limited, but to reserve a seat you can call The Loft box office at 795-0844 (or visit the theater) and purchase a $5 food and drink voucher, which will be held in your name.

If demand warrants, the show may be moved to The Loft's larger, main theater.

How to help

For information on becoming a member of The Loft or donating to its capital campaign, go to

"We may do shows like 'Mad Men,' 'Breaking Bad,' we're going to do the inauguration, and maybe some basketball games."

Peggy Johnson, executive director of The Loft

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at or 573-4181.