‘Done deals’ often take time to cook

Apr 16, 2002 8:20 AM

Some folks still think that the major Las Vegas hotel casinos make their huge entertainment bookings at the last minute. Rarely so. They’re done months, sometimes years in advance. Certainly the negotiating sometimes starts years in advance. Celine Dion may not play Caesars Palace for another year or so. Yet, the negotiations for her deal with them began over two years ago. That means it’s a deal at least three to four years in the making.

Recently, when Mike Tyson was refused a license here in Nevada and his April fight with Lennox Lewis was called off, the official announcement that Paul McCartney was coming to the Grand Garden Arena was released. The date would be that fight weekend.

Some thought the MGM hurriedly signed McCartney to fill in the date. In fact, though, he had already committed to coming to the Grand; the exact date just hadn’t been set. The cancellation of the fight opened the perfect date to fit in with the former Beatle’s tour schedule.

When it is finally announced that Michael Jackson will be coming to the MGM for a concert or two in June or July, that may also look like a last-minute signing. But it has been under negotiation for almost a year. The only thing keeping the commitment from being official is that the exact dates have not yet been set. In fact, according to an insider, it’s gone as far as Michael’s consenting to more than one concert as long as they aren’t on consecutive nights.

When Barbra Streisand returned to play Las Vegas for the Millennium celebration after years away, the deal was in the making for four years. MGM’s President of Sports and Entertainment-Worldwide Richard Sturm was trying to get her name on a contract and almost had commitments for her to play the hotel several times over the course of four years before the deal was inked for New Year’s Eve.

The same was true for Neil Diamond’s return to Vegas at the Grand in the late 90s, 20 years after he had vowed after opening the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts, that he would never play Vegas again.

This writer found out from someone close to one of his people that while performing in California, months before the MGM announced the result of negotiations, his musicians were already talking about what they’d do when they played Vegas six months down the road. It was how we at GamingToday were able to have the headline on our cover before the Grand even held the official press conference to announce the signing.

There is more than enough time for a reporter to dig and find out who a hotel is booking well in advance, with a little legwork, since deals are rarely done very quickly anymore.

Additionally, 20 years ago, performers committed to anywhere from 10 to 35 weeks a year and usually just re-upped their concert each year until they could no longer draw enough customers to be re-signed. So an entertainment director knew who he was going to have in the showroom in a given year, well ahead. So too, a performer knew when he was going to be playing in Las Vegas, well in advance.

Now though, since the multi-week showroom engagement for headliners is pretty much a thing of the past and has been replaced by the one or two-night concert maybe twice a year, that has changed. Now the engagement has to fit in with the concert artist’s recording, promotional, performance and sometimes book tours, as well as TV appearances and/or movie and video dates.

The days have long since passed when a Lou Walters, Jack Entratter, or Walter Kane could pick up the phone and lay out the next few months schedule in a matter of days and just weeks before those schedules might be