How in the Heck Can We Plan for Entertainment in 2021?!

Five questions and answers for casinos

During this incredibly unpredictable and unstable time for all of us, casino entertainment is the last on most people’s list. However, I thought that I would enlighten you all with some of the questions that I get regularly asked by casinos, agents, managers, promoters and artists.

1. When will casino entertainment return to anything close to what it was before COVID-19?

When this first started, everyone in the business was sure that by this Fall, we would be back to doing shows. Now, after moving dates for shows, sometimes three to four times, we are in a new reality. Unless we have a working vaccine and expedited testing with instant results, entertainment will be severely restricted and based on federal, state and Tribal mandates. We are witnessing how major sports have been managing the testing and the results have been very positive. But for the general public, getting tests with quick results is just not available. The latest news I read was that by October, Abbot projected it will be manufacturing 50 million nasal-swab rapid antigen tests at a cost of five dollars, promising the delivery of accurate results within 15 minutes. Now that sounds pretty promising. This testing is constantly improving, so instant saliva tests could be here soon. So, the truthful answer is that we just don’t know yet. Progress is being made, but getting back close to normal where artists, concertgoers and casino concert team members all feel safe is still a ways off.

2. What about casino entertainment budgets?

The impact this pandemic has had on the economy is substantial, and we probably won’t know the full scope for quite some time. Your casino entertainment budget is going to be impacted, for sure. However, it just gives us the opportunity to be more creative. There is so much entertainment out there that gets overlooked. The reason being that casinos are always looking for those bigger and more recognizable names. But with budget cuts, it’s time to regroup. It’s time to really analyze your database and focus on your different demographics.

Remember the old saying that goes something like this – 90% of your revenue tends to come from about 10% of your guests? We are in the gaming business and entertainment is our icing on the cake. It’s one of our most distinguishing brands. Sure, it’s exciting to bring someone like Pitbull, Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, Chicago or John Legend to your property. There is always a place for one of those big-name acts. But generally speaking, we need to fill in a monthly calendar with game shows, comedy shows, tribute shows and less expensive, proven quality national acts. We need to be creative.

One option that is being discussed regarding fees, is a promoter approach. This would be a situation where the guarantee to the artist would be lowered, but there would be a bonus ladder put in place. For instance, let’s say that you have a 1,500-seat venue and your average ticket cost is $50. That could produce a gross of $75,000. Your artist guaranteed fee of $50K gets lowered to $30K, with a $10K bonus at 1,000 tickets sold and another $10K bonus at a sellout. This is just an example to work off. One of the challenges with this approach, is casino comps. That would need to be negotiated.

This is a time to work on different approaches to concerts. The artists want to work, and we need those shows to help drive business and brand in the market. Time to create win-win solutions.

3. What is the changing dynamic in the entertainment industry?

First of all, the entertainment business has been hit harder than any other industry. The major agencies have cut back anywhere from 50% to 75% of their agents and support team. These people are out of work. The major concert promoters, like Live Nation, AEG and others, have severely cut back and laid off or furloughed large numbers of their teams. Then think about all of the infrastructure that goes into the tour industry. Production companies, bus companies, merch companies, tour managers and road crews, managers, etc. And don’t forget about all of the artists out there who depend on touring and playing shows to survive. It’s their sole livelihood.

When Tribal gaming first emerged back in the ‘90s, it reinvented and brought back hundreds of older artists. These artists became the cornerstone for Tribal casinos and their entertainment brand. These people are now just trying to survive financially.

So, this brings us to the changing dynamic. To some extent, the industry is getting streamlined. Some companies just won’t survive. Some artists will not go back to touring. Livestreaming concerts from home studios or empty concert halls seems to be on the rise, but whether that continues to grow or not, we cannot say. Maybe it will until this pandemic comes to an end and we can get back to live, in-person concerts. Keep in mind though that the live experience just cannot be replicated with streaming concerts. There is a pent-up demand for live shows that will just continue to grow.

4. How will we proceed going forward?

This is an opportunity to do a little reinventing. People are hungry to get out and return to some kind of normal. They want to go to shows, they want to go out to dinner and they want to socialize. Casinos are the hub for entertainment today. We just need to get back to business. It’s like after 9/11, when we had TSA and all of the changes to air travel, which seemed incredibly challenging. However, today, it’s what we are used to, and we deal with it. We need to start with small, manageable shows, with proper social distancing in place. This is not a time to discontinue entertainment, just a time to try some new ideas with less financial risk. It is time now to set your calendar for 2021 with holds for artists you either had in place for 2020 or were seriously looking to bring to your property. Your casino has a reputation for concerts, strong lounge entertainment and special events. They are part of who you are and a part of the culture.

Staggered seating, two shows at 50% capacity, an outdoor concert, etc., are all considerations until we are back to normal.

Just understand that we are all dealing with this challenge together. Don’t get left behind for 2021. Get your dates and your bookings in place with holds. You can always shift dates forward without penalty. Most importantly, you are on board with the artists you want going into 2021.

5. What are the legal issues involved with COVID-19?

How do we protect ourselves if we move forward and someone was to get sick and blame the venue for it? What are some of the things we can do?

For the artists, we advise putting together a COVID-19 addendum to be presented with the offer submission and signed before proceeding with a show. Additionally, in the first offer to the artist agent, include a clause that states your criteria for canceling and rescheduling.

For the general public, tickets generally have terms and conditions language. Review that with your ticketing company to see if you are protected.

Also, make sure that you have signage everywhere, as well as on your ticketing link on your website, notifying people of your policies and procedures.

Casinos also need to ensure that their team members working shows are all safe and healthy. Having your precautionary measures in place, such as regular temperature checks, COVID-19 testing in advance, etc., are all active measures so artists and concertgoers know your team is safe and healthy.

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