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October 26, 2014

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Buying talent: Bobby Reynolds, the Joint

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Erik Kabik/ErikKabik.com

The Joint won the Weekly’s 2011 Reader’s Choice award for Best Music Venue.

The vice president of booking at AEG Live, Las Vegas has lived in town and booked the Joint—the old space, then the new—for the past six years.

You book several rooms around town, correct?

The Joint at the Hard Rock and the Colosseum at Caesars Palace are the two venues AEG has in this market that are exclusive, which means no other promoters come into those rooms and produce concerts. Mandalay Bay and MGM, like most arenas, don’t have an exclusive relationship with any promoter. We go into those venues as the artist dictates. If it’s a big show with big production, then we definitely go into those rooms. AEG does a ton of shows in both of those venues.

The old Joint was famous for staging arena-sized acts in a small room. How do you decide whether the new Joint—which is twice as big (4,000 capacity) but small relatively small compared to an arena—is right for an act that typically plays the arena circuit?

The first weekend the new Joint was open we booked Paul McCartney in there. In the first week we had The Killers, McCartney, Bon Jovi and Kenny Chesney—so you’re talking four legitimate arena acts within seven days of one another. And it was awesome: The property got a ton of buzz, a ton of press and brought in a great gaming and dining crowd. And we still do that. Linkin Park, Soundgarden, Kenny Chesney multiple times. The Joint probably does more arena acts than any 4,000-seater in the world.

Now, generally those shows have higher ticket prices than the artist might have in an arena. And also the casino will subsidize a major show if they feel it’s worth it from a branding standpoint and if it’ll bring in a big gaming crowd.

The old Joint also booked lots of acts that drew crowds under 1,000, and it didn’t seem overly empty. In the new Joint, how small is too small?

In the old Joint, we did Rodrigo y Gabriela, one of my favorite artists, and we might have done 500 tickets. We’re not gonna bring a show like that into the new Joint—it just feels too cavernous. But in the new Joint we have a real intelligent curtaining system. We curtain off the third level, which takes it from 4,000 capacity down to 3,000. And we’ve done shows in there like Phoenix, Silversun Pickups, Wilco, Underworld, Bon Iver—and when the artist looks out and sees 2,500 people in the room, it’s virtually sold out. The reality is there’s another 1,000 seats above them that the artist and the fans can’t see.

How tough is the competition in Las Vegas these days?

In any other city there’s competition from other shows, other promoters in town and it’s all good. Out here, we’re competing for people’s entertainment dollar with the fine dining, the spas, the gambling, the strip club, seven Cirque de Soleil shows, nightclubs, dayclubs. We have more competition for the entertainment dollar out here than any other city in the world.

The Hard Rock’s financial picture looks a lot different when there’s a show in there and when there’s not. Same as MGM, same as Mandalay Bay, same as the Pearl at the Palms. Any property

really appreciates bringing several thousand people to their property on any given day, so therefore it gets that much more competitive.

Is there an ideal number of shows you’d like to have in the Joint each week?

The Joint and the pool are the engines that power the Hard Rock, so we’d like to have shows in there all the time. But in this market, where so many casinos and promoters are making offers, the prices get driven up. And we have to make sure we’re profitable.

Does the Hard Rock still book shows as loss-leaders on occasion?

If we could book Paul McCartney once a week, yes, that model sustains. But the reality is, we need to be profitable with our shows. About 85 percent of our shows are meant to be profitable—the business generated in the Joint offsetting the expenses, advertising, stage hands, artist costs. Then there are some shows that we take a swing at in order to bring in a good gaming crowd or just a good-branded show.

The Joint has booked Santana, Tiësto and Mötley Crüe for residencies over the past few years. Would you like to do more?

We booked Santana as the first rock ’n’ roll residency at the Hard Rock, and we caught that deal in more robust economic times. The show fared fine for us. Santana loved it and the Hard Rock liked it, but it was time for a change. Zero hard feelings. I’ve already been to the show three times at the House of Blues, and I love it. It’s great over there.

The Mötley Crüe residency is where, I think, we found our sweet spot. We bought 12 shows. We didn’t buy 72 like we did with Santana. We turned the property into this carnival, this Mötley Crüe campus, and everyone really dug it. So we kinda like the fit of these 12-show pods. And I’ll tell you right now, we’re negotiating with a couple of different bands looking to emulate what we did with Mötley Crüe.

The Joint is such an iconic concert brand. How much does that affect your process, as you're deciding whether an act is right?

Long before I or AEG was involved with the place, the Hard Rock had a reputation for bringing big bands into a small room. Again, the economic picture was different then—for everybody. But we still do that. It’s rare that Incubus is going to play two nights in a 4,000-seat room. And we have some other real big names in the hopper right now. We’re looking at some big stuff for New Year’s Eve, for example.

They want to keep that legendary and iconic status up, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job doing that. But again, we also need to make sure that the bottom line doesn’t suffer.

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