MGM bets on live events with T-Mobile Arena, new theater

AP News
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Posted: Apr 04, 2016 12:23 PM
MGM bets on live events with T-Mobile Arena, new theater

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The latest multi-million dollar development on the Las Vegas Strip features a leafy outdoor pedestrian area, 20,000 seat arena and small theater. It's a move to double-down on events and live entertainment that marks yet another significant pivot away from gambling in Sin City.

This week, MGM Resorts International begins unveiling its $575 million entertainment district on the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard. The 22-acre area is nestled between the company's New York-New York and Monte Carlo hotel-casinos.

The Park outdoor pedestrian area with eateries, water feature, 40-foot "Bliss Dance" sculpture and spread of tree-shaded seating and open space will officially welcome visitors Monday. The T-Mobile Arena, debuting Wednesday with a concert by the hometown band Killers and Mr. Las Vegas Wayne Newton, has lined up a series of high-profile music and sports events on its calendar and hopes it can also be the home of a professional hockey team should the National Hockey League approve expansion. A 5,300-seat theater designed for headliners to play in residence at the Monte Carlo is scheduled to open by the end of the year.

Combined, the venues represent a bid by the Strip's largest casino operator to directly compete with chief rival Caesars Entertainment Corporation and grab a larger share of the entertainment dollar. MGM hasn't been shy about acknowledging the Monte Carlo theater as its entry into the residency-headliner model of live shows that Caesars has made a signature offering — The Colosseum at Caesars Palace hosts top artists like Celine Dion and Mariah Carey and the Axis theater at Planet Hollywood has been successful with Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez.

Jim Murren, MGM's chairman and CEO, said the company considered downsizing and reshaping its Mandalay Bay Events Center to attract that level of headliners, but the 12,000-seat venue lacked the right acoustics.

"We admire very much what the Colosseum has brought to the market," Murren said. "This was an area we were not leading edge on. It wasn't something MGM anticipated as quickly as Caesars did ... we have a definite entertainment gap in our venue inventory. That really has caused us a lot of frustration."

Jason Gastwirth, Caesars' senior vice president of marketing and entertainment, praised MGM's development as a gain for Las Vegas tourism. He said the Park is a nod to Caesars' outdoor Linq Promenade built around the giant Ferris wheel, High Roller, and that the Monte Carlo will only help grow the thriving residency business model.

With the Colosseum fully booked this year, he said he's not concerned about fighting MGM for talent because Caesars has a strong strategy for developing a home for top artists. Both companies have strong ties with entertainment giant AEG, which is MGM's partner in the T-Mobile arena and also operates Caesars' Colosseum theater.

"It's not a coincidence that these artists have flourished with us in these theaters," Gastwirth said.

Meanwhile, the new T-Mobile Arena allows MGM to effectively own the larger events market. It plans to keep the 16,500-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena's schedule full too. The sister venue across the street will continue to host concerts and boxing matches and allow the company's convention business to expand.

MGM has also gone outdoors for the festival circuit, hosting the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on a lot across from the company's Luxor casino-hotel, and the Rock in Rio festival on the other end of the Strip.

Experts say MGM's latest strategy can work thanks to the strength of Las Vegas tourism, despite the metro area being home to about 2 million people — a modest population base considering the lineup of venues and live events.

Gambling analyst Alex Bumazhny with Fitch Ratings said the move to expand entertainment offerings parallels the Strip's embrace of clubs — night and day. That was the focus for much of the past decade and led to a gold mine for new profits at a time when gambling makes up just 35 percent of the Strip's revenue.

The in-house tickets will also allow MGM's casinos to offer the type of comps that sweeten the deal for its gamblers and hotel guests.

Gary Bongiovanni with the concert industry tracking firm Pollstar said MGM has positioned the T-Mobile Arena to be a must-stop for touring artists who are both attracted to newer venues and cities that can command higher ticket prices.

"The value of money is a little distorted in Las Vegas. When people are slapping down money on the blackjack table, they're less concerned about the ticket prices being $10 to $20 higher" than other comparable cities, Bongiovanni said.