Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

October 21, 2009

Vegas Gang #38 - October 21st, 2009

Posted by Hunter

Live from Vegas Podcast-a-palooza 2 @ The Palms.

We discuss CityCenter with our guest MGM Mirage Sr. VP of Public Relations Gordon Absher.

Feel free to add your comments below...


Read archived comments (34 so far)
October 22, 2009 6:36 AM Posted by Charles in Richmond, VA

I watched the recorded video of the Podcast-a-palooza and have a couple of suggestions. While it wouldn't matter to those listening to just audio, those watching the video would have liked more lighting so as to actuall see what the people looked like. Second, why was the camera off to the side? People on the other side of the room seemed miles away. Chazz Palminteri could have been an impersonator and no one could have been able to tell. Next time, can we get a camera positioned directly in front of the guests and presenters? Other than that, Great! Enjoyed it.

October 22, 2009 9:41 AM Posted by Dan Hall (UK)

Hi Hunter,
Just wanted to say thanks to you and your fellow podcasters for organising such a splendid event! Vegas has become a bit of a hobby and as a fan of all three shows it was great to see you all in person and put faces to the voices!!
Fingers crossed for a repeat event next year - the sooner you're able to post a date, the sooner I can get my flight booked ;-)
All the best!

October 22, 2009 12:52 PM Posted by Brian Fey

He is well spoken. I think he did a great job at answering most question. I know they probably were very careful as to what they said, and didn't want to reveal any new information. But overall I think he was a pretty good guest. I also think this might be a positive indication for what's to come in the future. Now that he's experienced first hand the professionalism and experience of the people tied to these podcast, I would imagine they are more incline to send higher management people to these events, since they can see they aren't just a waste of their time. The thing is, these guys can go on CNBC, and talk to more people, but 99% of them don't really care what MGM has to say. And though the audience of these podcast is far smaller, 100% of the listening audience is highly interested in what they have to say. The way Jim Murren's been making the media rounds, perhaps you'll land him next for an upcoming show. :)

October 24, 2009 7:00 PM Posted by parchedearth

FYI, Thurs MGM and Golden Nugget were both sold out and there weren't any huge conventions or events (a U2 concert on Fri). Talking to some staff, many of the MGM properties are now routinely over 95% occupancy. Also, the MGM Grand opened all their tables this weekend even ones I haven't seen open in years. My point being that it looks like tourists have returned and perhaps the new rooms won't be as big an issue as we thought. Table minimums are still a little low, so gambling revenue still has way to come back.

October 24, 2009 7:53 PM Posted by Phil

This PR guy sure nows how to spin. Next stop, press secretary at the W.H. He spun so much he kept forgetting the question. One technique a lot of these PR guys use is give long flowery answers so you reduce the amount of questions that can be asked to you. I'll give it to him, he's good at what he does, but as far as info goes, not much there, understandably, he's not going to give out too many secrets before it opens. The tidbits new to me were the staggered dates of openings and how parts of the mall will be vacant for quite some time.

October 24, 2009 10:10 PM Posted by John

Where are those renderings that you said you'd publish? Gimme.

Also, did Dave ask the same question as Hunter did? C'mon, doc!

October 24, 2009 10:11 PM Posted by Hunter

Yeah, I did say I'd scan his doc, though calling them renderings is probably being generous. It's a couple of blobs on a page to show general location of buildings on the site.

October 25, 2009 1:37 AM Posted by Mike E

There were two sheets of the drawings that were passed around at the event. I think they were different from one another and I mysteriously wound up in possession of one of them. I'll scan and link it here when I get the chance.

October 25, 2009 7:20 AM Posted by Jinx

In response to parchedeath's post, I don't doubt that visitation is on the rise, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a recovered, the reason I say that is MGM has aggressively pursued gamblers with free room offers over the last year in tier levels they wouldn't have looked at before, basically cannibalizing the existing Vegas base (ie HET and MGM). MGM had more to offer since their properties were perceived as more value, so I think that's what some of the high occupancy is related to. HET's going to struggle while MGM's playing that game. After all, if Caesars is on par with MGM, and MGM's giving away free or reduced, makes it hard for HET's #1 property to charge a premium.

October 25, 2009 7:25 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Blobs is a good description. Kinda like they tried to make them look like something written on a napkin.

October 25, 2009 9:12 AM Posted by Dave

"Also, did Dave ask the same question as Hunter did? C'mon, doc!"

Nah, I actually formulated my question after hearing the response to Hunter's. Since the success of the project is obviously very important to the company, I wanted to know exactly how they define success. Occupancy? Holding a certain room rate? Gaming revenue?

If I'd have had time for a second question, it would have been this:
"Describe in a sentence or less how Jim Murren's leadership differs from Terry Lanni's."

Maybe next time.

October 25, 2009 11:45 AM Posted by mike_ch

Sorry, parchedearth, but I don't buy that. Nor Murren's claim that their occupancy is high and rates are going up every day. Unless they're using floors of the towers as hobo towns. I'm still getting offers of $70 for Mandalay and less for MGM Grand.

October 25, 2009 1:06 PM Posted by charlie

The posts on the Wynn/Encore Facebook page are quite amusing... especially the 'folks' defending Garth's honor. I forsee a change from "Encore" to the "Corral" b/c that them there folks want Pearl beer and sawdust floors.

October 25, 2009 3:16 PM Posted by parchedearth

I was as surprised as anyone about the MGM being booked solid on a weeknight. Absolutely their occupancy is due to a combination of slashed rates and the weak dollar exchange rate. I have always doubted whether this is sustainable for them. However, if they can fill their properties right now they should be able to avoid a total occupancy disaster when CC opens. Late last year I would have guessed some properties could have dropped below 50%. I now think they'll easily be over 80% occupancy. Of course, that doesn't meant they'll be profitable, just that filling their places may not be the problem I once thought it would.

October 25, 2009 5:30 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

I don't understand Charlies insults of Garth Brooks or his fans. Brooks has sold more records than ANY Las Vegas headliner; probably more than any two combined. Brooks didn't sell all those records to Okies and Texans, he sold them to people from Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas and Santa Barbara. Brooks will sell out every seat because people who have never seen a cow like his music and will pay to see him live. I on the other hand, have seen AND touched a cow, and don't like his music and don't plan to see him. Unless I win tickets at something like the Podcast-A-Palooza!

October 25, 2009 5:33 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Oh yeah, mark this down as a sign of the apocalypse, I agree with mike_ch on his last post.

October 25, 2009 6:07 PM Posted by charlie

Oh come on. The one lady looks and sounds just like Grandma Ivy from Pure Country. I just thought it was funny... I like Garth.

October 26, 2009 3:09 AM Posted by chuckmonster

If I were the boss of MGM and I heard the way Gordon completely and utterly screwed the pooch on my initial softball question and again on "cross examination" I'd fire him. If you don't have the ability to explain the flagship resort that your company has bet the entire farm on in 100 words or less you have no right representing it.

Absher's punt coupled with ARIA's lousy marketing message proves that few people at MGM understand exactly what the ARIA product's identity is.

October 26, 2009 4:31 AM Posted by detroit1051

I thought Abscher was pretty smooth, but clearly he was being a good soldier and saying only the party line.
What disappoints me is the lack of marketing of Aria with only 51 days until opening. Every day, I check Aria's site, my email and snail mail. Nothing! I did get "The Moment You Arrive" mailing, both at home and by email. The only difference in the two is that the email version replaced the ugly orange furniture in the sky suites photo with an earth tone photo.
In another week, we'll be saying Aria opens "next month". When will MGM start hyping it?

October 26, 2009 9:02 AM Posted by mike_ch

There's nothing wrong with Garth. I'd say he has wider appeal than Toby Keith and look at Harrah's.

Chuck: He doesn't want to say "Yeah, this isn't a themed casino" because it sounds negative, and he doesn't want to say "well you see, themed casinos are dead" because that is negative toward a still large number of their own casinos. I would have accepted something like "we think Las Vegas is a big enough destination with enough of a reputation that we no longer have to gain the tourist's attention by pretending to take them somewhere else."

On the other hand, his tangent about Some Guy Who Just Really Loves The Monte Carlo was self-sabotaged the moment he said "we have hotels for all kinds of customers." Yes, every type of customer who enjoys Cirque shows and Light Group venues.

If I was on that panel, my question would not be CityCenter related, I'm afraid. My question would have been "since 2004 when MGM-Mirage bought the Mandalay Group, the only new resident headliner shows they've signed outside of Cirque du Soleil has been Hairspray at Luxor, Lion King at Mandalay, Louie Anderson at Luxor, and Terry Fator at Mirage. Carrot Top simply changed venues from MGM Grand to Luxor, and there was tension earlier in the year that Lance Burton might not get a new contract and leave Monte Carlo. Given that Cirque has been giving discount programs for over a year while opening two shows in the past year with Believe and now Elvis, why are they such a dominant part of the company's entertainment lineup?"

When you look at it like that, MGM's reliance on the same trick over and over is kind of sad.

Of course, as a local I've been hearing of local's deals to Cirque shows since maybe last May. They started with periodic deals to KA and maybe Zumanity, and then spread to all shows, and now they're not exclusively for locals and it's pretty well known that Cirque shows are not immune from having to sell seats for less than they hoped for.

But somehow in that time, MGM has given Cirque a green light for not one but two shows. Somebody in Montréal must really know the MGM Secret Handshake.

October 26, 2009 4:44 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

Sorry I couldn't attend the Podcastapalooza this year, but I thought Gordon was an informative guest -- although maybe not for some of the Rate Vegas posters. Unlike TV viewers or newspaper story readers. many of the folks who read this blog have seen, listened to and read almost everything available about Las Vegas casinos, and it's tough for any PR executive to tailor his or her remarks to such an informed audience.
Also, because the Podcastapalooza segments are only about 30 minutes each, there's not much time for follow-ups. I thought Hunter ran the segment well, but would suggest a future one-hour version of the regular podcast with Gordon or his boss, Alan Feldman, that would allow time for questions and follow-ups.
I thought his answer that, for MGM Mirage, "everything" is riding on CityCenter's success was succinct and accurate, but was not surprised he evaded two different questions trying to get him to say exactly what would constitute success. If MGM Mirage sets the bar too low (60 percent occupancy of available rooms at Aria and Vdara, $120 ADRs for both hotels, 40 percent sales conversions for MO and Veer condos) it will scare Wall Street. By setting the bar too high (95 percent room occupancy, $200 ADRs and 75 percent conversions) they set themselves up to look like they've failed.
By again writing down the value of their half share of CC I think they've tried to get the bad news out of the way so that they can open and report good news.
I personally liked Gordon's glib answer to my question, posed by Hunter, about a possible exodus after CC opens of design-oriented executives like Bobby Baldwin. Gordon said we'd have to ask Bobby, not the answer you'd typically get about such a high-ranking boss.
I will be surprised if Baldwin stays long after CityCenter opens.
When Terry Lanni appointed Jim Murren as COO a couple of years ago I wrote in a column that it was a clear sign that Murren was Lannis's heir apparent, and a couple of other journalists in town quickly got Lanni to deny any such implication. (Other high ranking execs privately told me my read was correct). But I think the writing was on the wall even then that Bobby's days with MGM Mirage were numbered, and the Harmon fiasco and the economy killing plans for other projects cemented that impression.

October 26, 2009 7:38 PM Posted by derek

Charlie is a bit of a snob. Maybe an Elton John concert would be more his lifestyle?

October 26, 2009 8:46 PM Posted by Hunter

Be nice kids. We're all friends here.

October 26, 2009 8:49 PM Posted by Mike P.

This is completely off topic, but the latest open topic discussion is getting a little moldy: I got ticketed for jaywalking crossing LV Blvd. between PH and Bellagio Sunday afternoon. Apparently the LVPD has declared war on the heinous crime of crossing against the light, and are targeting that intersection and the Mirage/Venetian crossing.

I have to say I was completely flabbergasted. The strip is getting more shabby by the day with phalanxes of p*rn slappers to avoid, litter everywhere, and by all accounts tourists are at grave risk if they stray even a half block off strip in some areas, and LV's finest have decided the best use of their time is to write tickets for jaywalking.

I'm not sure what to do about this except pay the fine and spread negative publicity everywhere I can. Las Vegas strip pedestrians, be careful when crossing the street. There's a new menace out there, and it's on a motorcycle or bicycle and wearing a badge.

October 26, 2009 9:08 PM Posted by Jason Robar

mike_ch: You forgot Frank Caliendo on your headliner list. (And depending on how loosely you are defining headliner, Menopause at Luxor and Ronn Lucas' run at Excalibur might fit the bill as well.) Also, the Criss Angel show was actually officially announced in March of 2007(!), so only one Cirque show was greenlighted since last May.

I think a year ago the MGM/Cirque relationship could be considered symbiotic. Now, with Terry Fator and the Lion King, I'm not so sure that MGM is as dependent on Cirque when it comes to filling entertainment gaps. They seem to be willing to look for a variety of acts now, which is a good thing.

October 26, 2009 9:35 PM Posted by mike_ch

I wouldn't call Menopause or Ronn Lucas (who basically had a cup of coffee stay at Luxor) a headliner. It's kind of a second-tier offering like Carrot Top at Luxor or Wayne Brady at Venetian or Mac King at Harrah's.

I did not know until now that Caliendo's contract is for ten years. He makes the perfect Morning Show Guest on the radio, but I wonder whether a guy doing a pitch-perfect impression of John Madden will still pack a room in ten years.

Lion King is a good step, but remember that MGM's attempts to get that show practically predate the Mirage merger and subsequent Cirque license, as it was the original replacement for EFX.

October 26, 2009 9:40 PM Posted by mike_ch

Mike P: There definitely is a Metro crackdown that is needed, particularly among residents as speed limits here are mere suggestion and residents seem to behave as though there's a certain lawlessness in the town. I'm not sure ticketing tourists is strictly necessary.

Really, going after jaywalking is a bit of a weird idea as Nevada law states that anyone hit by a car while jaywalking is at fault. Blaming the driver in most circumstances is Blue State Hogwash donchaknow.

Don't know what Derek means by that, since I'm going to see an Elton/Billy Face2Face concert in a couple weeks. Given the options in Vegas I'd pay an $85 cheap seat for Garth, I s'pose, but there is no such thing. $125 or nothing. Guess I'll pass.

October 27, 2009 4:35 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

mike_ch- At 1500 seats the Encore theater has views from all seats that are a "premium value" :-).
Where are Elton/Billy playing at? I assume it's T&M or MGM Arena?
Wife and I saw a woman getting a jaywalking ticket on LVB at Bellagio/P Ho crossing last Monday. Thought it was odd.

October 27, 2009 3:47 PM Posted by mike_ch

Jeff: The old "no bad seats" thing that is trotted out more and more these days in Vegas is pure bunk.

I'm in California for a month or so, they aren't playing Vegas. I stayed in Vegas all summer to go to Podpalooza and now that it's done I'm taking my trip out of Vegas to preserve my own sanity.

Like VegasRex said the other week, anyone who can be happy within the confines of Nevada (or at bare minimum Clark County) for month after month, year after year, and never feel a desire to leave, is a mentally unhinged person I want no part of.

October 27, 2009 7:50 PM Posted by detroit1051

Mike_ch, no matter where one lives, it's always good to get away once in a while for a little mental R&R. There is no utopia.
I know several people who have lived in Las Vegas for years, and they wouldn't live anywhere else. Granted, they don't live on the Strip, but they like the Valley. One lives in Los Prados, another in Sun City Anthem and one near Red Rock casino.

October 27, 2009 8:36 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

mike_ch, ...??? $125 for the biggest selling artist of all time, in the smallest theater, in the most popular (Strip) entertainment area in the country is pure bunk? Having a little trouble with that one.

October 28, 2009 10:33 AM Posted by mike_ch

Jeff: Garth ain't bunk, showrooms that claim "there isn't a bad seat" are. I don't care how few seats there are, they should charge more for the first few rows, or just temporarily remove the seats and have a floor like Prince.

October 28, 2009 2:43 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

As in "not a bad seat if you bring your binoculars and stretch your neck around this pole"? :-)

October 30, 2009 7:35 PM Posted by detroit1051

This quote from a Business Week story surprised me. I never equated Aria with the Vatican.
"Look at that," says the chairman and CEO of MGM Mirage (MGM), pausing inside the Aria Resort & Casino. "The marble, the vaulted ceiling—it looks like the Vatican."