Rock in Rio's Shaky Las Vegas Debut: Inside the Numbers

No Doubt performs on the opening day of Rock in Rio USA 2015

No Doubt performs on the opening day of Rock in Rio USA 2015 on May 8, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

Whatever might be debated about the inaugural Rock in Rio USA -- an uneven lineup and fuzzy attendance numbers are among the contested issues -- no one could argue that the two-weekend gathering in Las Vegas wasn’t as comfortable as any ever produced. That was especially true of the pricey VIP area (single-day pass: $498), where Wolfgang Puck's team served internationally themed food. Even in the AstroTurfed non-VIP zones of the 33-acre permanent site, all felt agreeably laid-back.

2015 Rock in Rio USA: Photos From the Festival

But if that elbow room made a cozy environment for visitors, it may have been a little too comfortable for the promoters. With a lineup that included Metallica, Bruno Mars, No Doubt and even the unofficial opening of Taylor Swift's U.S. tour, the Circus Circus-adjacent field had a reported 172,000 admissions during four days, or an average daily attendance of 43,000, according to festival organizers. (The Las Vegas Metro Police Department gave local papers some daily attendance numbers well below Rock in Rio’s, including a 29,715 figure for the peak day, headlined by Mars, which Rock in Rio had at 48,000.) The fest's official figures led most media to report attendance as generally half-full, since Rock in Rio had previously announced a daily capacity of 80,000. But Global Entertainment CEO Randy Phillips (who booked the main-stage talent) says the shows averaged closer to 75 percent of capacity, adding that local permitting had resulted in an actual cap of 65,000.

SFX Revenue Booms, But Rock in Rio Las Vegas Leaves a Mark

Phillips tells Billboard that, while the Vegas event didn’t finish in the black, "it was successful based on first-year projections." Given a talent budget that Billboard estimates at about $10 million, producers "never expected to break even or make money in the first year, and lost less than anticipated," he adds. The conventional wisdom on major festivals has been three years or longer before break-even, and with partners including Yucaipa, SFX, Cirque du Soleil and MGM Resorts, pockets remain deep.

Ideas on how to better pack the field for the 2017 edition are already being discussed. Phillips says his recommendations will include shortening the festival by a day and "eschewing the genre-specific weekends so that it is just three great days of music."

This story first appeared in the May 30 issue of Billboard.