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Take It Outside: MGM Festival Series

Q&A with Chris Baldizan, Senior VP of Entertainment at MGM Resorts International

Take It Outside: MGM Festival Series

GGB: Where did the idea of MGM’s off-property festivals originate? What’s the draw?

Baldizan: (MGM Chairman) Jim Murren reminds all our 60,000-plus employees to think outside the box. Today’s Las Vegas is not the Las Vegas of days gone by. Visitors today want experiences. Gaming, while still an important and profitable core business pillar, has seen a decrease in percentage as it relates to total revenue. Now, revenues are made up of hotel rooms, food and beverage, retail, convention business and entertainment as well as gaming. 

Las Vegas has always been forward-thinking when it comes to reinventing itself and giving people new reasons to come, and there’s certainly a unique experience at a festival. You’re not confined to a seat. There’s variety, from food and beverage options to different genres of music. There’s a certain sense of community; it’s about the experience and connecting with other people. I think the festival sites we’ve developed are even more unique, because they’re in the heart of Las Vegas on the Strip; you’re only minutes away from the next activity.

What kinds of festivals marked your first season?

We kicked it off with the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the Village, which is part of iHeartRadio in the Grand Garden Arena. There’s a built-in audience already here for the weekend, and the outdoor component allows iHeart to showcase up-and-coming talent. We feel like the brand and outdoor component of the festival is only going to become stronger. 

We also hosted the 10th annual Wine Amplified Festival, which started at the Beach at Mandalay Bay. The natural synergies of relaxing with a glass of wine and listening to great music have made for a successful combination. We also tried our first annual Blvd. Brew Festival, showcasing some rare microbrews from Oregon, arguably the mecca of microbrews in the world. Along with local Nevada microbrews and again, first-class music, it makes for a great day of festivities.

Finally, with Live Nation, we created the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a unique take on country music in Vegas. It’s definitely one of the most anticipated festivals of 2015. We’re proud of all of our brands and expect each of them to get bigger and better this year.

MGM is betting big on Rock in Rio. How long did you calculate the risk, and are you confident it will pay off?

Our bet is on the site. Rock in Rio was one of the tentpole events for the site, but we built it for more than that. It’s been proven that festivals take time to grow and for the brand to be recognized. Rock in Rio’s debut was spectacular, but it was a relatively unknown brand coming to a new market that’s very competitive in the festival space. It also was a new venue that guests and artists were not familiar with until now.

What other kinds of events are planned for the Festival Grounds? Will there be a full calendar?

We do have restrictions on the number of events we can host at both the Village and Festival Grounds. Our goal is to program as many different events throughout the year as possible. There’s a great market for private convention business in these spaces. It would be wonderful to host two to four major festivals at each venue annually. We’re also looking at food festivals, sporting events—and hopefully, events we haven’t even thought of yet.

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