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November 22, 2014

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Q+A: MGM Resorts chief talks more parks on the Strip, pro sports team for new arena

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Steve Marcus

Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, participates in a panel discussion during National Clean Energy Summit 5.0 on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, at Bellagio.

The Park Artist Renderings

An artist’s rendering of MGM Resorts International’s project the Park, which will connect New York-New York and Monte Carlo with an eight-acre outdoor experience.  Launch slideshow »

Fast on the heels of MGM Chairman and CEO Jim Murren’s revelations Monday morning about the new Park and arena expanding behind New York-New York and Monte Carlo, he’s now promised that the transformation will grow to include all of his company’s properties on the Strip.

In one of his first interviews after Monday’s reveal of new attractions, restaurants, plazas and promenades at the Park that I reported early on Twitter @robin_leach, Jim also predicted that the new arena will finally attract a hometown pro sports team in the next few years.

Details of the Park’s new look with country star Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, Robert Mondavi’s Wine Experience, two-time James Beard Award-winning chef Guillermo Pernot’s Havana-styled restaurant Cuba Libre and the theatrical Japanese hotspot Sake Rok were posted Monday morning.

“Tourism is changing completely for Las Vegas,” Jim told me in our one-on-one conversation. “It’s a different tourist. We’re changing, and the landscape is changing. The walls are coming down, and the hotels and casinos are opening up.”

Earlier today (Monday), you revealed the attractions for the expanding Park project. In a sense, is this your answer to the Linq?

I love the Linq, but this is a different experience. The Linq is a very effective, very well done pedestrian promenade with a great attraction: the High Roller. The Park is a much larger social experience, a much larger public gathering space that’s privately financed.

It will have outdoor art and music, video and theater. It will have an opportunity for people to experience different social environments, and I believe it is going to be a gathering place off the grand boulevard of the Las Vegas Strip.

You are changing the entire look of the Strip as we’ve known it with these new additions?

I believe we are changing and we’re thinking ahead to what the tourist of tomorrow wants to see. We have been here a while, these resorts were designed to capture people’s time, to attract them into the four walls of the resort and encourage them to stay as long as possible without ever leaving.

That is not today’s consumer. They are more experiential, experimental, more spontaneous. They won’t be tied down to an itinerary, won’t be told how long they sit in a theater or at a slot machine. They are going to find the social experiences they want, and they collect them as experiences like we used to collect baseball cards of yesteryear.

They collect them, then connect them with their social media, with selfies, with Instagrams, and we need to react to their collection of experiences. At MGM Resorts, we want to be ahead of the field in this regard. By creating these open spaces that create a better connective tissue between resorts — really fun, energetic, clean public open spaces for people walking from place to place — that is the future of Las Vegas.

We’re going to do this up and down the Strip on all the properties we own!

So this is the first of several changes we will see in MGM buildings all along the Strip?

Exactly right. Over the next two years. You get a flavor of it already when you see how really different the facades of New York-New York and Monte Carlo are versus a year ago and as we continue to add these amenities: the great outdoor seating around Hershey’s when it opens next month and Shake Shack and Tom’s Urban later this year and see the Park emerge as a gathering place. People will really grasp how very different this is compared with the last generation of resorts.

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Jim Murren, CEO and chairman of MGM Resorts International, and Frank Furlan, president of Swatch Group U.S., cut the ribbon at the Tourbillon grand opening on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, at Crystals in CityCenter.

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Jim Murren attends the premiere of Cirque du Solei's "Zarkana" in Aria on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012.

Let me ask you two questions in one. How does MGM discover that the tourist model’s wants have changed and, in learning that, do we now have a different tourist? Has the market expanded to a different demographic of tourist?

We do a tremendous amount of tourist surveys. We get a lot of feedback. Consumers today, particularly Millenials, are extremely socially adept. They are very demanding. They are online all the time with their smart devices, checking reviews, listening to you, Robin, listening to others, to find out what’s great, what’s best.

We are actively engaged in monitoring these social habits at all of our resorts. People tell us what they like and what they don’t like on a real-time basis. We like that. We enjoy that — that combined with the fact that Millenials are going to represent 50 percent of all travel by the year 2020. That’s around the corner, so we really felt that we could respond to what they’re interested in and be ahead of the curve.

Las Vegas demographically is changing profoundly. In the last five years, the average age of a tourist to Las Vegas has declined from 51 years to 46, and it’s still falling. Therefore, those customers broadening out present a great opportunity for all the resorts here. We’re becoming more universally exciting to people.

Understanding that, you can see why we are spending more of our effort and money on nongaming, on theaters, showrooms, hotel remodels, upgrades and public environments like these open spaces. That’s what consumers are asking for. It’s why we are doing festivals.

This weekend’s Foodie Festival was incredible. Rock in Rio coming to Circus Circus … iHeartRadio is another. These environments are so popular. We’re gaining so much market share hosting these types of events. We know that we can take this model even farther.

In advance of the groundbreaking for the new arena on Thursday, tell me what is the status of bookings compared to what you already have committed for MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center.

We usually don’t book arena events until one year out, so there are no hard bookings right now. But we’re already overbooked on most weekends at both the others. We have an extraordinary lineup coming up: This weekend is the Mayweather fight, then Billy Joel, Cher, and the list goes on and on.

We can add a lot of the concerts we have been unable to accommodate because of conflicting events on weekends, like UFC and boxing, but we will be much more heavily engaged in sporting events, college tournaments, college basketball, college hockey, exhibition games, a lot more like Frozen Fury for hockey and Lakers for basketball and more tournaments like the Pac-12.

The combination of those events and events that might be more family oriented and never accommodated would be great for locals at the new arenas — there are at least 100 incremental events we can bring to Las Vegas once the new arena is open. We don’t expect any occupancy declines whatsoever at the arenas of Mandalay or MGM once the new arena opens.

That figure of 100 is a good starting number, right?

Yes, and that doesn’t assume a professional team here. The business model so many people tried here in Las Vegas was to try to lure a team here and then try to get public financing for the arena. Our business model does not require us to have a professional team. We will make money and be very successful without one. We’re completely financed privately without public funding.

But would you entertain a pro team?

Absolutely yes. Our bargaining position is vastly improved when we don’t need one. I would love to see one. I think Las Vegas will absolutely have one over the next few years. I think we are going to be in a very good position to guide that dialogue in the future.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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