Three years ago, as Paris Hilton was about to turn 24, the spotlight-seeking celebrity got a sense of her worth to the nightclub industry in Las Vegas.
She had celebrated her previous three birthdays at Light, the Bellagio’s nightclub run by the Light Group. But for her 24th, another company swooped in with an offer that trumped the standard private jet, a free stay in a luxury suite, a sumptuous dinner and, of course, free-flowing booze.
The hotel heiress would get a big paycheck — reportedly about $200,000 — just to party, but it had to be at PURE, a rival nightclub at Caesars Palace.
Her handlers let the Light Group know that their former deal was off.
Celebrities often make appearances and walk the red carpet as part of the deal for coming to a Las Vegas casino or nightclub. In return for generating media coverage, they receive all sorts of free goodies, if not cash. For nightclub operators, it has become the standard way of getting their establishments known.
Besides the buzz it creates, it generates more celebrity hounds, more people willing to pay a $30 cover charge, $15 for a cocktail and $500 for a bottle of name-brand vodka or Champagne.
PURE managing partner Steve Davidovici said rumors of celebrity payments are exaggerated, and pointed to reports the group paid $250,000 to Britney Spears eight months ago to host PURE’s New Year’s Eve countdown.
"That’s a lot of sour grapes from other nightclubs, I guess," Davidovici said, while giving a tour of LAX, a plush club that resembles a chic 1920s opera house. "It’s a third of those prices."
Even at that, the appearance fee, which works out to about $83,000, was money well spent, he said. The club sold a table next to Spears that night for $50,000, and some 3,000 revelers spent $250 on tickets.
Recently, PURE nightclub hosted Paris Hilton and her sister, Nicky, as they unveiled new products from Nicky’s clothing line. The club later gushed in a release that the sisters "danced their hearts out for the admiring onlookers" as "the two socialites stuck to the main VIP stage."
Industry observers say such celebrity-spotting is worth the price of admission.
"It’s fun to be famous and rich. That’s why people pay to get in and watch," said Lori Levine, the president of Flying Television, a talent-booking firm in New York. "If you go to a club to see one of the ”˜It’ girls, you take a photo on your phone and you’ll have a story to tell for the rest of the summer."
The pay scale for celebrity appearances range from free drinks to thousands of dollars.
NBA stars command appearance fees from $5,000 to $30,000 and models can broker $2,500 to $25,000 "depending on whether she’s been in Victoria’s Secret or Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue," said Ryan Schinman, president of the entertainment consulting firm Platinum Rye Entertainment.
In exchange, the stars are obliged to do little more than shine.
"Be on the invite (list), pose for some pictures and call it a day," Schinman said.
Other than the requisite photo op, there are few rules for contracted talent appearances.
At Spears’ New Year’s Eve appearance at PURE, the new mother famously fell asleep around 1 a.m. and was helped out of the club, generating a barrage of scandalous Internet gossip.
Some said it didn’t matter.
"Clubs don’t care about bad behavior," said Steve Striker, the founder of trip organizer Striker VIP. "It creates media, good hype or bad."
Light Group managing partner Andy Masi says his company doesn’t pay for appearances but will supply jets, suites, dinners and drinks for celebrities on special nights such as club anniversaries — with tabs often running into the thousands of dollars. The group generally makes celebrities pay when they visit on their own.
But unscripted celebrity appearances at Light’s 10 restaurants and clubs in Las Vegas can do a better job of generating interest, he said.
"Afterward, the buzz gets out. Someone you know, Leonardo DiCaprio, seen eating in STACK or Tobey Maguire seen at FIX restaurant or Kevin Connolly hanging out at Jet (nightclub)," he said. "That stuff comes out afterward, but we’re not crafting the entire night and spending money to create that. It’s just happening naturally."