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Las Vegas hotels luring tourists for New Year's

20 December 2011

By Laura Carroll

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- All year long, those who choreograph Las Vegas nightlife meticulously plot and plan. Data are analyzed, customer counts are calculated and potential earnings are compared side-by-side with marketing and operations budgets.

Refinements are made from one weekend to the next in the quest to fine-tune a major local industry designed to deliver a good time.

Now, just two short weeks from New Year's Eve, the stakes have never been higher.

Last year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 309,000 people flocked to Las Vegas to celebrate the start of 2011, creating a nongaming economic impact of $189.6 million.

Out to rake in their fair share, and maybe a little more, every club owner in town is looking for a competitive edge.

"For us, it's the biggest night of the whole year,' said Jesse Waits, co-owner and managing partner of XS and Tryst.

On a typical weekend, admission at most Las Vegas clubs runs $10 for women; $20 for men. But on New Year's Eve, they roll up those rate cards and blow them sky high with the fireworks over the Strip. The average cover this year will be $150, though in most venues that includes at least a two-hour open bar and a midnight champagne toast.

With that kind of money at stake, club operators leave little to chance. Waits said he's already planning for New Year's Eve -- 2013.

The newest nightclubs in prime locations draw huge crowds with ease on New Year's, Waits said.

But clubs that have seen a few seasons need help packing the party.

That's when they call in the biggest celebrity their money can buy.


Choosing a celebrity host or musical act to headline your New Year's Eve party can be like falling in love at first sight, though sometimes you might have to sift through the frogs before finding a prince.

For The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, it was mostly the former.

Two months ago, a group of six to 12 Cosmopolitan employees started debating which musician would be best to headline New Year's Eve in the strip hotel's 3,200-seat venue, The Chelsea.

"It's such a big night, you want a huge headliner," said Lisa Marchese, The Cosmopolitan's chief marketing officer.

It was a tough decision, and Marchese said they even waited a little longer than was comfortable to choose.

But then she saw him one night at Austin City Limits. She knew she had to have him.

"It was profound," she remembered.

Thus Stevie Wonder was chosen -- the right amount of star power for the biggest night of the year.

"It's a relatively high bar to achieve, and Stevie gets us there," Marchese said.

Tickets for the concert run $250.

The preparation and calculation is no less intense on the nightclub scene, where artistry and talent take a backseat to raw, unadulterated fame. How else can anyone explain Kim Kardashian's reported $100,000 payday for spending just one night at Tao?

"A lot of tourists want their brush with celebrity. They want their 15 minutes of fame," said Sean Evans, contributing editor for Nightclub & Bar Magazine.

At Tao those 15 minutes on Dec. 31 will cost you $200. Each.


"We know our customer pretty well," said Anthony Olheiser, MGM Grand Las Vegas's director of nightlife. "It is key to focus on your core demographic."

At MGM Grand's Studio 54, selecting a New Year's Eve host starts with the understanding that the club's target demographic is 21- to 35-year-olds.

When the planning begins, Olheiser said, teams of nightlife operators, public relations specialists and talent management experts draft lists of available celebrities. Next, they debate whether the celebrity's price fits the budget, and whether the celebrity fits the club.

"A lot of people are hirable, but at the end of the day, do people want to see them?" Olheiser asked.

Studio 54's key demographic is too young to ever have visited the famous namesake New York City disco, except perhaps at the point of conception. But MGM Grand bills the club as "a wilder version of the legendary ' 70s club,' so who better to host a crowd looking for that vibe than actress Pamela Anderson, who might be described as a wilder version of most women.

"New Year's Eve is a sexy weekend, and Pam is a sexy lady," Olheiser said.

He wouldn't say how much Anderson will be paid, but tickets for the night run $150, nearly four times the cover on the previous night.

Richard Wilk, a 17-year veteran of the Las Vegas nightlife industry, said it can be hard to choose and book a celebrity host, and that personal relationships often play a part in landing one.

"It's all who you know," said Wilk, the vice president of nightlife marketing and operations at Tropicana Las Vegas.

That was the case when Waits booked his friend, a lesser Kardashian named Rob, to host at Tryst.

For the all-new RPM nightclub at Tropicana Las Vegas, Wilk and company wanted a bigger name.

"This club needs to make a statement," Wilk said. "That's not something to mess with."

That's why the renovated venue formerly known as Club Nikki booked R&B superstar Mary J. Blige for its New Year's Eve grand opening, with tickets going for as much as $125.

"Mary J. Blige doesn't do club appearances in town," Wilk said. "This is probably one of the only times you're going to be up close and personal with Mary J. Blige. That's a big deal."


Because New Years Eve is such a competitive night and so much work is put into planning these events, the glitterati know they can charge a premium for appearances. Olheiser said celebrities generally double or triple their price on New Year's, and suggested that a name disc jockey or a B- or C-list celebrity may charge $10,000 on up, while an A-list celeb can expect six figures, "for sure."

Tyler Feldman, president of eMerge Sports & Entertainment, which represents celebrities and books appearances, said celebrity fees range from $5,000 to $150,000.

Word on the street is that Kim, the alpha Kardashian, will pull down $100,000 for her night at Tao, Feldman said. He speculated that the collapse of her 72-day marriage to Kris Humphries factors into her six-figure payday because clubs think people are intrigued by her and her recent personal drama is a draw.


The closest thing to a Blue Book for celebrities is the annual Forbes magazine list of the 100 most-influential celebrities, also known as the A-list.

This year, Lady Gaga is No. 1, Katy Perry is at No. 12 and the Black Eyed Peas land at No. 16.

By Olheiser's estimate, each commands $100,000 or more for one night's appearance. There are 365 nights in a year. Feel free to do the math.

Forbes rankings are based on entertainment-related earnings and media visibility. Presence on Facebook and Twitter is taken into account, as is annual, pretax income.

Making the A-list isn't a lifetime appointment. Britney Spears ranked No. 6 in 2010 but didn't make it at all in 2011 because she didn't tour or appear much in public. The celebrity business is fickle, and her asking price isn't what it used to be.

Evans, who writes extensively about the nightclub industry, agreed with Olheiser's summation of sticker prices for A-listers. But he estimates that lesser lights, generally found on the B- and C-lists, probably earn $30,000 to $50,000 -- not bad for a night's clubbing, though substantially less than scale a few years ago.

The laws of supply and demand are just as real in this line of work as they are in any other, and Evans argues that an abundance of famous people who build paid appearances into their business model has flooded the market, driving down the price for most.

"We're no longer in the Paris Hilton era," Evans noted.

When the hotel heiress/model/actress began her reality show/club girl parade/minor crime spree through America's television sets, paid celebrity appearances weren't the norm for nightclubs. Because of the buzz around Hilton and the places she went, clubs started paying a premium -- $250,000 -- to get her and her fans in the door.

Thus was born a marketing technique that has matured into a multimillion-dollar industry built on a never-ending supply of reality-TV celebutante hosts.

A host famed only for being famous has to strike while the iron is hot, because history tells us that fame is fleeting.

Anyone know where Hilton is hosting this New Year's Eve? Anyone? (Cricket sounds.)


As in any business deal, contract terms are crucial in establishing a mutually beneficial relationship for nightclubs and celebs alike.

When courting an A-lister, Olheiser said, it's important to make an attractive offer. Stars at the top still can pick and choose from multiple offers. His crew tries to gain an edge by structuring the deal and offering multiple appearances, usually three per contract. That way the celebrity is guaranteed more work if they sign with the MGM Grand for a big night like New Year's Eve.

And just as in real estate, location, location and location are selling points.

Feldman said that big-name celebrities, who may get as many as 20 offers for New Year's Eve, will choose a gig in Las Vegas both because they like it here and especially because Sin City gets a lot of press exposure, which helps keep them from spending future holidays with Britney and Paris.

"They'll usually go with the one that will bring the most press," Feldman said. "Even if the money's good in Wichita, Kansas, they're going to go to Vegas."

Most contracts also include a clause saying that a celebrity can't appear at a competing club for a specific number of days. For MGM, the cooling-off period is 30 days before and after a Las Vegas gig.

"We don't want to devalue the press appeal," Olheiser said.

All things considered, celebrity appearances aren't exactly backbreaking labor.

Celebs are obligated to pose for pictures, usually near a backdrop bearing the venue's name. They have to be visible to guests most of the evening, and to speak to the crowd at least once. For a nightclub gig, it's a two-hour shift, Feldman said.

Higher-paid celebs have additional chores, Feldman said. They are required to help promote the appearance, usually using social media such as Twitter or Facebook, or by name-dropping in broadcast interviews.

"Especially if it's a big event," Feldman stressed.

Contracts, of course, reflect the needs of both parties.

Evans said most deals include top-of-the-line amenities for the celeb, which haven't seen the same kind of deflation that appearance fees have suffered. Think first-class airfare, limousine rides, luxury penthouse suites, free spa treatments and complimentary dining.

"A lot of them demand security. Some demand it full-time, 24 hours a day," Feldman noted.


This New Year's Eve, you won't be able to swing a saxophone on the Strip without hitting a celebrity musician. LMFAO is hosting Haze, The Bank has Bruno Mars, 1 Oak booked Fergie, LAX secured rapper B.o.B.

Olheiser said clubs like to book musicians as hosts because they may also choose to perform, giving a little extra value even when not contractually obligated to do so.

But it's up to the celebs to decide how far they'll go for the fans. Marilyn Manson, for instance, didn't perform during a Halloween weekend appearance at The Bank, though he did pose for a few pictures outside the club and then periodically waved at the crowd from his second-level VIP booth.

Talent on stage isn't necessarily enough to land a high-paid hosting gig, however.

"We try to value decisions based on who's pressworthy," Olheiser said. "I put myself in a customer's shoes."

A mainstream American's shoes, to be exact. Shoes of someone with stars in his eyes and disposable income in his pocket.

Olheiser noted that MGM tends to avoid booking a celeb dogged by too much negative press.

"Overall perception of the artist is huge," Olheiser said.

Which makes Pure's choice of singer Chris Brown for New Year's interesting in Evans' mind. Brown's 2009 beating of former girlfriend, the singer Rhianna, didn't exactly enhance his reputation out in mainstream America.

"I think there are a lot of other people they could have picked," Evans said. "Maybe it came down to budgeting. I think it will be interesting to see what their attendance will be."

Waits said if someone he booked at XS or Tryst suddenly became unfavorable in the public's mind, he'd cancel.

"People pick a place by who's there," Waits said.

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