Abby Wells Baas, WME
Wayne Hurte, Chumash Casino Resort
Brian Moore, The Bowery Presents
Craig Newman, APA
Moderated by Randy Wright, Integrity Events
Wright kicked off the panel with an examination of social media and how it is used by artists, agencies, and casino properties. Newman began by stating that artists are responsible for promoting their shows in tandem with marketers, and the best way to encourage this synergy is to utilize social media. He pointed to Mickey Dolenz, a client who successfully runs his meet ‘n greets through social media (usually Facebook) without charging the property and promotes each show individually.
Hurte believes in the importance of social media promotion and advises starting early, reasoning, “If you can get enough activity going right away and let that grassroots campaign build, you can save money on your television or radio later because you’ve moved the tickets.” Baas cautioned that each artist is different and their social media mix must be individually analyzed and advertising funds should be allocated accordingly. The one constant ingredient to success: video. She continued, “Artists will make specific video posts and send them to the properties. They do this for a lot of dates in general, but it works really well for casinos. The personalized videos can be shared on the socials of both the property and the artist.”
Newman also suggested Instagram takeovers: “If a property has its own Instagram page, an artist can take over the account for 24 hours. They can walk around the property and showcase different features, and you end up not only advertising the show but the property itself.” Baas was quick to add, “But you can’t ask five minutes before you need them to do it.”
An attendee in the audience asked if social media promotions by the artist should be included in the offer. Baas responded in the affirmative, noting that the amount of artist promotion should be clearly stated in the agreement. She continued, “It is becoming the norm. Even acts like the Oak Ridge Boys are active on social media. It’s no longer just the younger generation.” Hurte countered, “There are acts who have social media presence, but it doesn’t [translate to] sales. You don’t get the same result every time. You have to be able to adapt your plan.”
The discussion then turned to side deals for VIP packages. Wright asked attendees if they had experiences where an artist was offering VIP tickets without talking to the casino marketing staff. Rick Gallagher of Turning Stone Resort Casino said that it happens all the time. “We negotiate a deal and all the financials are in place. Then two weeks before the show, we find out that [the artist] is offering $150 VIP packages. We don’t get a percentage of that and we fight for it. Sometimes we get it, but often we do not.”
Newman responded, “It’s a surprise to us too, sometimes. I don’t want to get that phone call from somebody I am doing great business with and have to say ‘no, I actually didn’t know.’ Thankfully, it hasn’t happened to me in a long time, but it has happened.”
Baas noted that the WME system has very specific language about VIP ticketing programs that is included in the negotiation process. However, she has seen cases where a third-party VIP company is hired after the offer is confirmed. Addressing the casino representatives, she asserted, “You guys offer hotel rooms with dinners and other packages and we are not sharing in that revenue. So I think everybody has their different ways of creating more revenue [beyond] the guarantee and ticket sales.”
Hurte noted that many of the bundled ticket packages aren’t profitable for the casinos. “If we are giving food with the ticket, we are going in the hole on the food. All we are really doing is spending money to sell more tickets.” With no slot machines in casino theaters, fans who are at a show can’t gamble. “Everybody plans to be [in the casino] for five hours, but they’re in the show room for three. So that trip is now worth 40% of what it would have been otherwise.”
Hurte continued to shed light on some of the possible ill effects of side deals, especially with VIP packages. “Some [artists] charge $150 and deliver $6 worth of effort. The casino is stuck with the bad [impression]. To the fan, it’s not that their favorite artist just ripped them off but that the casino did a poor job setting this up.”
As the exchange continued, Newman offered, “In some cases now, there are third-party event companies. Some of my clients use them and they eliminate the need for [casinos] to worry about any of that. You just give us the room and a 6-foot table. We bring the backdrop and staff. We have an advertising source online.” Audience member Lori Otelsberg interjected, “Sometimes, those companies are worse than the actual act. They don’t take no for an answer and they go around the buyer directly to the casino because they think they can.” “Sure, they are not perfect,” acknowledged Newman. “I use one with my Priscilla Presley show and it actually helps drive sales. And Priscilla always says, ‘We will invite the casino guests to come in along with the paid guest,’ which I think is important.”
The panelists and audience debated meet ‘n greet participation by casino VIPs and whether artists should charge for this service. Members of the audience explained that casino offers are based on lay knowledge of the industry, with buyers factoring-in revenue streams such as gaming and hotel rooms. Their position is casinos ‘overpay’ for artists, hoping to make up the expense through other income sources. After a volley of comments, Baas responded that she does not see an issue with artists charging for meet ‘n greets since they are providing a service. Newman added, “I am being told by certain properties ‘we are all about hard ticket revenue.’ Well, if you are all about hard ticket revenue, then shouldn’t I treat it like a hard ticket show?”
A member of the audience noted that it is illegal for casinos to share revenues with any other party, including performers, in the jurisdictions where he works (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan). “Guess what the backend is now,” responded Newman. “The backend is the VIP money.”
Wright asked if agents see a commission from VIP meet ‘n greets, to which Baas and Newman answered in the negative.
Hurte and Moore both expressed frustration over the lack of communication surrounding VIP meet ‘n greets. Often, offers are accepted that specifically state no meet ‘n greet and properties find out later that packages have already been sold to fans. This puts them in a tough position. Said Moore, “Our customer base isn’t necessarily following the act, they are following us. So, every single time [something] isn’t right, [the damage is to] the casino’s image not the act’s.”
One audience member shared his success alleviating the execution challenges of meet ‘n greets by taking them offsite. “You can invite listeners to the radio station where the artist performs a couple songs. The people who are listening are having a virtual meet ‘n greet as well. It’s very effective.” Added Wright, “It takes the casino out of the mix. It is offsite, and it becomes the artist’s or the third-party’s problem and not mine.”
Wright wrapped by asking panelists what is on their radar in the casino entertainment world. Moore replied that he is looking forward to integrating esports into the casino space after successful events at his other venues. While admitting that fans are younger (early 20s), he noted, “It’s insane how active that audience is. There is a real market there.”
Hurte is focusing on adding acts with a lower ticket price who still deliver a punch to his entertainment mix. He has had several successful shows with Thunder From Down Under, and is looking for opportunities with comedy and speakers.
Baas remarked that she also has gotten a lot of requests for speakers and comedic acts, and that these shows do a good job of meeting budgetary needs. She is having conversations about bringing larger acts to casinos for scaled-back, frugal acoustic shows, and finding other entertainment that traditionally hasn’t focused on the casino market.
All panelists were excited about the resurgence of 90s acts, and members of the audience shared that TV show tours like Property Brothers and Price is Right Live have been doing incredibly well. Programmers are planning on buying clairvoyant shows and are looking toward 2000s acts in the not-too-distant future.