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Las Vegas’ Post-Pandemic Comeback Is Setting a New High Bar Across Venues of All Sizes

"You can do a stadium play and then come back and do a residency and be wildly successful doing that… One complements the other."

After the pandemic shutdown that darkened theaters on the Las Vegas Strip from February 2020 until July 2021, the “Entertainment Capital of the World’ is now amid a new golden era of entertainment. After opening both Allegiant Stadium and Resorts World Theatre in 2021, now in their first full year these two new venues and the existing Dolby Live performed top in their class according to Billboard’s year-end Boxscore charts thanks to residencies by Silk Sonic, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and more. And that boom’s expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

“Coming back as strongly and swiftly as we have has been such a surprise because we didn’t know what to expect,” says John Nelson, senior vp of Concerts West/AEG Presents, Las Vegas, which books the Resorts World and select Allegiant Stadium shows. “It taught us that we can’t always tell what’s just ahead of us. But Vegas is changing. If you interpret that definition of entertainment more broadly to include sports and spectacles, Vegas is continuing for the next decade as the entertainment capital of the world with F1 in 2023 and Super Bowl coming in 2024.”

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Formerly Park Theater at Park MGM, Dolby Live features Live Nation residency shows such as Lady Gaga Jazz + Piano, Silk Sonic and Usher, topped the category for venues from 5,000 to 10,000 capacity with 478,000 tickets grossing $114.5 million over 98 shows according to figures reported to Billboard Boxscore. There, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s Silk Sonic played 51 shows throughout the year, grossing $50.4 million; Usher played 25 shows with $24.1 million gross; and Lady Gaga capped out her run with 9 shows bringing in $12.9 million.

“The Vegas entertainment community worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get entertainment back up and running again,” says Amanda Moore-Saunders, senior vp of Las Vegas residencies for Live Nation. “It’s mind-blowing to know that our team booked and marketed over 900 shows in Las Vegas in 2022, with residencies from the biggest artists in the world such as Adele, Gaga, Shania [Twain], Miranda [Lambert], Usher and many more, plus now we have Garth Brooks to look forward to in 2023; not to mention booking 13 of the 15 concerts at Allegiant Stadium this year with sell-out shows from BTS, Metallica, Bad Bunny and more.”

Allegiant Stadium, which debuted with sold-out shows from Illenium and Garth Brooks in July 2021 — also signifying the return to touring after the pandemic — grossed $182.5 million with over 1 million tickets sold from 24 shows in 2022. The new stadium with 65,000 seats has opened the city up to large touring shows, which previously passed by Las Vegas. Top 10 grossing tours, including Live Nation’s Bad Bunny, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Def Leppard & Mötley Crüe and The Weeknd and AEG’s Elton John and The Rolling Stones all played the venue in its first 15 months. BTS ($35.9 million), Bad Bunny ($22.1 million) and The Rolling Stones ($14.8 million) were the venue’s top earners.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Chris Wright, general manager of Allegiant. “I’ve seen venues turn around in markets but this is such a unique thing. The Raiders are fantastic partners. With the city and the state’s foresight to invest in this building, so many entities are all truly pulling together, working in the same direction for common success. One of the things I truly have come to love about the city is all of these disparate entities are not so disparate. People work together here to make something successful. And it’s really amazing to watch. I don’t think a lot of cities have that dynamic.”

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Wright, who was previously vp and general manager of Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena, knew that the idea of a stadium in Las Vegas was already a risk, coupled with the task of opening a venue of that scale in the middle of a pandemic.

“There were a number of people with lots of experience who understood the business who had questioned whether a stadium in Vegas would truly do significant business. And here we are,” says Wright. Allegiant almost doubled the numbers of its closer competitor SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. SoFi grossed $107.8 million over 11 shows with 547,000 tickets sold. SoFi and Allegiant, both newcomers, joined State Farm stadium in Arizona in establishing a touring route.

“We fit into a routing through L.A. and Arizona — sitting in the middle [that works for artists to] add another date. But more than that, we have the ability to draw people to come to shows in Las Vegas who see the same shows elsewhere,” Wright says, noting that given the city’s vast entertainment offering it is easy for consumers to build multi-show Vegas weekends — a stadium show, a residency, a sporting event and more. But for the newcomer, getting the right content is an important piece of the puzzle and that came from building a team with strong relationships.

“[Our opening strategy] was an ‘everything’ strategy, our relationships with Live Nation and AEG were instrumental to bringing shows into the stadium and demonstrating that it works,” says Wright. “[We built a team] that canvases all avenues of the music industry — promoters, agents who we have relationships with, managers who we have relationships — constantly going at every opportunity and advancing forward. On a day-to-day basis, you just want to grab as much as you can and you’re constantly trying to move on events.”

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With so much demand within the city and the number of venues available to book, getting the right content becomes increasingly difficult as many acts will do residency engagements prior to going on tour.

“It’s definitely competitive. I think if someone is going out on a stadium tour without factoring in a residency component, or a festival play, then I think it makes perfect sense to play Allegiant Stadium. It gets a little more complicated when someone is trying to calculate the impact of a residency either in front of their tour or behind their tour,” Wright says. “But we’ve gotten to the point now where people recognize you can do a stadium play and then come back and do a residency and be wildly successful doing that. I think one complements the other.”

For theaters under 5,000 capacity, newcomer AEG’s Resorts World Theatre, opening in 2021 with residencies from Katy Perry (40 shows, $24.7 million), Luke Bryan (18 shows, $10.5 million) and Carrie Underwood (18 shows, $12.4 million), grossed $55,272,018 over 87 shows with 326,510 tickets sold.

“Resorts World stepped up and made this enormous commitment to build the greatest theater in Las Vegas during a pandemic. They followed through and they did it. They did it on time and we opened and coincided with Vegas’ reemergence. Every day we’re grateful, surprised and happy with what’s happening,” says Bobby Reynolds, senior vp of AEG Presents Las Vegas.

Reynolds says standards across the city have been raised since the pandemic: “The city is firing on all cylinders, whether it’s entertainment or hotels — 20 months, a billion dollars. It is refreshing to see that pent up demand we thought was going to be there really is.”

He continues, “Katy’s show is beautifully produced. It’s huge. It’s massive, it’s larger than life by design. Luke’s concept for his show is so flexible and moves around so well. It’s so impressive with the risers of the stage, and of course, his catwalk that comes over the audience and Carrie’s show with its water feature and pyro. Everyone came in and did their own thing. Kevin Hart coming in to shoot for his next streaming special is a big feather in our cap and he is coming back on New Year’s Eve. I’d be surprised if Kevin didn’t return for more shows.”

Caesars Entertainment/Live Nation’s The Colosseum at Caesars Palace ranked third in the under-5,000 category, with $36,719,306 over 54 shows and 197,964 people in attendance. Wynn Las Vegas’ Encore Theater, in partnership with AEG, grossed $23,485,906 with 110 shows and an attendance of 139,951 people, ranking eighth.

In the highly competitive over 15,0001-plus-capacity category, T-Mobile Arena, which is located within the Park MGM campus, took fourth with $124.7 million grossed over 58 shows and 731,000 tickets sold.

George Strait played shows on Dec. 3-4, 2021 and Feb. 11-12, combining to $10.1 million; Daddy Yankee grossed $4.1 million on Aug. 6 and 20; and My Chemical Romance took in $2.3 million on Oct. 7.

“MGM Resorts is home to the industry’s premier entertainment venues [like Dolby Live and T-Mobile Arena]. The success we’ve seen the past two years is a true testament to our employees, event partners, and loyal entertainment and sports fans who enjoy the array of experiences we offer,” says Chris Baldizan, MGM Resorts International’s executive vp of entertainment. “We have hosted some of the world’s preeminent artists and sporting events over the years and look forward to delivering more exciting content in the months and years ahead.”

Live Nation Las Vegas president Kurt Melien concludes, “[We] are uniquely positioned to support live entertainment at every level including residency programming and big arena and stadium business, to our clubs and theaters, as well as a strong pipeline of festivals. We’ve been able to support artists as they bring more concerts and more creativity than ever to the city.”