While high-profile concerts with recognizable names like Brad Paisley, Pitbull, and Snoop Dogg are going to draw a lot of people, most of the time the cost just isn’t feasible for your property. Depending on your venue’s capacity, you can only sell so many tickets. Plus, in the post-COVID-19 era that we are living in today, prices have not dropped for entertainers. Their costs have also increased exponentially. We tend to forget about their operating costs, but just like you and your property, finding qualified people is tough for touring artists today.
So, the real deal is that we want to create a property with an entertainment program that people want to come to over and over again. This means keeping your entertainment program diversified, fresh, and consistent. The challenge here is creating a strategic plan and branding for your casino’s entertainment.
So many properties tend to shy away from new ideas. Yet, we need to explore new trends, ideas, and types of entertainment. Your marketing department is typically where entertainment decisions are made. The larger properties will have various dedicated entertainment venues and people whose job it is to run and manage these venues. The smaller properties may only have a lounge and possibly a small concert venue that also doubles as a multipurpose room for corporate events and private parties.
Making the Most of Smaller Properties
The first job is to know who you are. Typically, a local’s destination has a lot of regular weekend warriors who come out pretty much every Saturday and Sunday. These are your regular guests. Lounge entertainment does very well in these casinos. However, many local bands are composed of people who have regular jobs that also enjoy playing music on the weekends. This is your challenge to navigate. The days of regular bands touring around a region are a thing of the past. The old night club scene is pretty much gone, so the casino lounges are what’s left. So, quite frankly, the quality is not what it used to be and the consistency of a good lounge program has suffered. Finding those local groups that really work at their trade and work at creating an actual brand and a social media presence, can be challenging. It takes someone doing the research and getting out and seeing what’s going on locally. Local agencies are not what they used to be, so you have to be willing to do the leg work. Also, keep in mind that a good DJ can be very cost-effective and brings a lot of energy, which is a lot easier to afford and manage than a full band.
In addition to your weekend lounge music program, have you explored a weekly or monthly comedy night? These types of programs have to be built up with patience. Success is very dependent on the quality of the comedians. Cost is always a factor, so you need to balance the cost versus the quality. Look for someone who can help you with booking these comedians, and be careful, since a lot of comics are trying to book themselves and may not have your best interests in mind.
Don’t forget about your seniors. These people tend to stay away from crowded weekends and late nights. Try developing a “seniors” program and pick an off day of the week. There can be older styles of music, variety programs, game shows, lectures, cooking shows, etc. These can be tied into early dinner deals and end at very reasonable times. Remember – most seniors don’t like driving at night.
Now, for the bigger properties …
Usually, this is where you find more concert activity. This all depends on your venue size and whether you host big, outside shows or you have a good inside venue for medium size shows.
The touring business today is just as convoluted as everything else. These groups are crisscrossing the country, coming in and out of casino venues, amphitheaters, festivals, and fairs. They are dealing with COVID-19 issues everywhere, and since there is no real standardized procedure, it’s very confusing.
The bigger and more recognizable concert acts have very strict protocols. They are at risk of having to cancel dates based on the health of their entire traveling party, from bus drivers to road crew to the artist themselves. Many shows have already fallen away due to health issues. It only takes a couple folks falling out to wipe out an entire run of dates.
However, the risk is worth it, as many will say. People want to get out and go to shows and the larger, more popular acts are in high demand. Having your own internal policies firmly in place is mandatory. Many properties have come up with their own COVID-19 addendums and on the artist side, they are also presenting their own COVID-19 addendums. Which brings me to a very valid point – addendums are great, but there has to be a middle ground where we can all agree. This is becoming more and more difficult though, so keep an open mind.
These big shows will really brand your property to your region as well as to the entertainment industry. Your reputation as a concert venue is so dependent on how you do business and how professional your staffing is with artists. Believe me, word gets around quickly about your venue, and you want those words to be positive. It will help you land high-priority acts, or it can bury you away from getting the acts you want. Meet-n-greets are pretty much off the table these days. Sometimes you can sneak in a couple of photos, but generally, it’s a firm no.
Routing for these bigger acts is a priority and fitting them in on off days will reward you with better pricing. Be aware of what is going on in your region and develop relationships with similar properties that are out of your radius clause. NIGA regional conferences can be very helpful for creating these relationships, as well as national conferences like IEBA and Pollstar. The Raving marketing conferences are another great way to network as well.
The big shows take a lot of organization internally and there is not a lot of flexibility with this level of artist. Every detail needs to be addressed and your team needs to be organized and responsible. Work on planning farther out than you used to. The bigger artists are already well into 2023 with planning. You want to be organized with a strong strategic game plan for your larger and pricier concert program. Know your budget, know your demographic, know your expectations and goals, and get ahead of your competition. The rewards are great, and when you have your guests excited about a big show, then you’ll know you are on the right track.