During this incredibly unpredictable and unstable 14-plus months for all of us, casino entertainment is last on most people’s lists. However, with the successful rollout of the vaccines, we are seeing a total surge in people wanting to get out and resume their activities, which includes concerts and entertainment.
Is casino entertainment returning to anything close to what it was before COVID-19?
After moving dates for shows, sometimes three or four times, we are in a new reality. With the working vaccines in place there is a very positive but hesitant response, both with casino venues and artists alike. We are witnessing how major sports have been opening, and in mid-June 18,000 fans packed the Las Vegas T-Mobile Arena for a Vegas Golden Knights playoff game.
Progress is being made, but getting back close to normal, where artists, concertgoers and casino concert personnel all feel safe, is a way off. There is a lot of skepticism out there and numerous people who will not get vaccinated, so we shall see how that plays out. As a company, we are seeing concerts coming back very strongly this month (July). The outdoor venues are a lot less concerned, whereas the indoor venues are more cautious and restricted.
What is the new normal going forward?
The impact that this pandemic has had on the economy is substantial, and we probably won’t know the full scope for quite some time. Each state, as well as each Tribal government, has their own guidelines. Unfortunately, there is no across-the-board mandate or policy for our country. States like Florida and Texas are wide open, whereas the Northwest is much more cautious.
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, 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 and protocols in place as needed. This is not a time to discontinue entertainment, just a time to try some new ideas with less financial risk. Now is the time to set your fall calendar for 2021 and start planning holds for artists who you are seriously looking to bring to your property for 2022. 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
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 for fall now. You can always shift dates forward without penalty, if everything shifts with this pandemic. Most importantly, you are on board with the artists you want going into the rest of this year and into 2022.
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 percent to 75 percent of their agents and support team members. These people are out of work. The major concert promoters like Live Nation, AEG, C3 and others, have severely cut back and laid off or furloughed large numbers of team members. 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.
All of this requires rehiring and rebuilding. Agencies are just now starting to reopen offices that have been closed for 14 months. With the unemployment supplement, hiring people back has become more challenging. I am sure that your property has experienced some of this situation.
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.
The industry is getting streamlined to some extent. Some companies just won’t survive. New agencies are emerging. Some agencies have been bought and renamed. New artists are showing up who haven’t seriously toured yet. Some artists will not go back to touring.
Keep in mind that the meet-and-greet will become much less available.
Understand that touring exposes artists and their crew to thousands of people daily, and that is not as appealing as it once was. You have seen the beginnings of new strategies in Las Vegas, where iconic artists set up with short residencies, where the fans come to them, instead of the other way around.
Artists are inserting COVID-19 language into their contracts.
As a company, we are putting together new language in our casino addendums to address not just COVID-19, but referring to Pandemic language. Because we may not have seen the last of this sort of game-changing health crisis. This addendum is an important document that every casino property should have in place 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.
In conclusion, we are living through some crazy times, and this pandemic has really shaken up people’s sense of security and priorities. There are so many mixed messages out there today that we all have to sift through. The main point is to be internally organized with strategy plans in place for your entertainment programs. Know your limits, know your budget and know your guests, now more than ever.
Entertainment is a cornerstone for your casino brand, just proceed carefully and responsibly.