The palace built for Celine Dion is finally switching hands and the two architects of who turned the Colosseum into a billion-dollar business are taking their curtain call alongside the five-time Grammy winner
Concerts West’s John Meglen and John Nelson say their agreement to bring residency shows to the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace is ending this summer with Dion’s final 28 performances at the building, capping of a historic 17-year, 1,113-show run that’s on track to gross $650 million dollars and has been seen by more than 4.5 million people. The concert series that first started with Dion’s New Day in 2003, the only residency to ever gross $300 million, followed by her 2011-2019 Celine residency, which is the second-highest grossing residency of all time behind New Day ever reported to Billboard Boxscore. Meglen and Nelson said they had no idea the show would gross the $100 million mark and say Dion’s succes in Vegas will probably never again be duplicated in live music.
“And so it’s time to try something new,” said Meglen who with Nelson is overseeing a “pivot” at Concerts Wests’ Las Vegas office. Nelson, who’s been svp of Concerts West/AEG Presents in Las Vegas since the beginning of Dion’s blockbuster run will now focus on Dion’s global touring business — she’s expected to announce a world tour after her Las Vegas residency officially wraps in June.
Most of AEG’s Las Vegas business will now be overseen by longtime svp Bobby Reynolds, who will lead the AEG Presents office and report to president Rick Mueller. The shift frees up Nelson to focus on special projects including new possible residencies in Las Vegas, but as both men look to the future, one thing is certain — there will never be another artist like Celine Dion.
“She changed history and she completely changed Las Vegas,” said Nelson, who notes the new residencies being announced for artists like Cardi B, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez aren’t really at the same production level or scale of what Dion created with her husband René Angélil, as well as Meglen, Nelson and former AEG CEO Tim Leiweke. Meglen said one of the show’s most dazzling production elements — a massive wall to wall video screen — was an idea Angélil introduced to Meglen and Leiweke at a breakfast meeting.
“I told Tim (Leiweke) that you can tell how expensive the item Angélil wants by how much breakfast costs,” joked Meglen, who said when they arrived, they were ushered into a private dinning room with two chefs and the beginning of what Meglen called “the most expense breakfast I’ve ever had.” The screen Angélil wanted for the show cost $10 million — Leiweke and Meglen said yes.
“We were trying to build a show that you couldn’t see anywhere else in the world,” Meglen says. “It was a show that couldn’t tour — it was big, the production was massive and cost millions in preproduction.”
Today, Meglen says residencies are really “artists coming through town and doing their concert.”
“Some of them are doing some special things,” he says, noting Lady Gaga’s two-part Enigma show at the Park Theater in Las Vegas as a standout, as well as AEG’s own residency series for Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Robbie Williams and more. When Dion started out, she was playing five shows a week — today most artists only play three shows a week as part of their residency. Dion’s first year she played 40 weeks total, while today most residencies only last two or three weeks.
“Back in 2001 or 2002 when we started thinking about this idea with Renee and Celine, Las Vegas was pretty sleepy when it came to entertainment. You had Cirque du Soleil and the stuff the Rat Pack and Elvis Presley had done in the past, but nothing had really been going on for headliners. It was kind of a place you went on the downside of your career and it took awhile for that to change,” Nelson says. “And even after Celine proved it could work, there were still plenty of people who were afraid to touch it. Thankfully Elton John was brave enough and smart enough to understand what that business could mean and he signed on early.”
John’s two runs in Vegas — the Red Piano show from 2004 to 2009 and the Million Dollar Piano from 2011 to 2018 — crossed a combined $297 million and was seen by 1.7 million people, according to Billboard Boxscore.
When AEG hands the keys to the Colosseum back to Caesars Entertainment, they’ve have hosted nearly 3,000 since March 2003, with approximately 10 million guests and $2 billion in ticket sales, making it the second highest grossing venue in the history of Billboard Boxscore, behind New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“The deal we struck was Caesars was that as long as Celine was there, we managed and operated the building,” Meglen explains. “Now that Celine is leaving,Caesar’s wants to do it themselves. But you have to remember — when we started, none of them (Caesars) would partner with us. The basically told us we could rent the building.”
Meglen said the Colosseum was built while Las Vegas was undergoing a reinvention — in the early 2000s, casino revenue shifted from being primarily driven by gaming to a hospitality-focused business.
“That was our opportunity,” Meglen explains. “Everybody thought we were crazy, but we proved that it worked. Everybody that works in that building had worked for us — ticket takers, security, stage hands. Now they will work for Caesars starting July 1.”
With the Colosseum off his plate, Nelson said he felt it was the right time to make a shift and reorganize the Las Vegas office to align with a company-wide shift at AEG Presents. AEG’s Chris Hammond will continue to book the Encore Theater at the Wynn and Reynolds will continue to book the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel, which is being rebranded as the Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hotel with an opening date slated for late 2019.
Reynolds tell Billboard he’ll “run our existing business in Las Vegas and actively pursue new ideas and opportunities in the live entertainment sector” including “new venues and programming existing venues.”
“We’re creating new concepts and new festivals,” Reynolds says. “The company is 100 percent behind me and I’m really looking forward to the next chapter in my career, working with my team to find new opportunities.”