Entertainers like Liberace, Elvis Presley, Lena Horn, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack thrust the dusty two-horse town into the world's entertainment spotlight and forever turned Las Vegas into a premier vacation destination. Still, for decades ...
Las Vegas used to be the city where big-name entertainers spent their sunset years. As far as signed residency contracts go, the concept is almost as old as Sin City itself. Entertainers like Liberace, Elvis Presley, Lena Horn, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack thrust the dusty two-horse town into the world’s entertainment spotlight and forever turned Las Vegas into a premier vacation destination.
Still, for decades, residency showrooms mostly played to performers in the twilight years of their careers.
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Today, Las Vegas is still the entertainment capital of the world, but the contracts being signed into residency runs are aimed at performers who are hitting their stride and running strong. These include such names as Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga and Celine Dion, as well as Blink-182, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, Ricky Martin, Reba McEntire with Brooks & Dunn, Cher, Santana and Rod Stewart.
Las Vegas residency stars earn millions. Headliner performances see $60 to $1,000 seats that can add up to $1 million per show. Most recently, Gwen Stefani signed into a 25-show run at the Zappo’s Theater (formerly AXIS and the Aladdin Theater) at Planet Hollywood. The 48-year-old pop singer will give away $1 per ticket to the Cure 4 The Kids foundation from her “Just a Girl” residency.
That signing followed Lady Gaga’s announcement last December that she will be joining MGM Resorts International for a two-year engagement at the 5,300-seat Park Theater at the Park MGM resort on the Las Vegas strip starting December 2018. “It’s the land of Elvis, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack, Elton John, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli,” the singer said in a statement. “It has been a life-long dream of mine to play Las Vegas.” The 74-show residency that begins later this year is reportedly worth nearly $100 million, a new precedent for these types of deals.
Las Vegas residencies have become a popular draw for top music stars because they allow performers to remain in one place and draw large crowds without the rigors of touring.
Lady Gaga’s lucrative residency contract comes on the heels of Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me” residency, which ended on New Year’s Eve.
“Lady Gaga joining an amazing lineup of talent at Park Theater is monumental for Lady Gaga fans, MGM Resorts and the Park MGM brand,” said Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts International, during the singer’s signing event. “We have all been wowed by Lady Gaga’s raw talent, but the passion, commitment and creativity she is prepared to bring to this engagement will truly be transformational.”
It remains to be seen whether Lady Gaga will be the star who overtakes Celine Dion’s popularity. Dion’s residency began in 2002 and turned into the most profitable entertainment bet in Las Vegas history. In her first five-year stint at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Dion played to 3 million people and earned $444.69 million. The singer has had subsequent signings and is rumored to be continuing her string of residencies through the end of the decade and beyond.
“In 2017, the proportion of visitors who attended any shows during their stay was 59 percent, up from 52 percent in 2016, and of those who attended a show, the proportion who attended a big-name headliner was 21 percent,” said Jacqueline Peterson, chief communications officer for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, who once headed up communications for Harrah’s entertainment.
“While we don’t receive revenue numbers, the fact that our resort partners and other venues continue to add residencies indicates to us that they’re a good proposition.”
And those show-goers spend. The average per-person trip total spent on shows in 2017 was $139.77, up from $121.19 in 2013, according to figures published in the latest Las Vegas Visitors Profile study published by the LVCVA. Twenty-one percent saw a headliner, up from 13 percent in 2013 and 17 percent in 2014.
“Developing and adding entertainment options is what Las Vegas does best. Announcing new entertainment, attractions and development continues to drive excitement about Las Vegas,” Peterson said.
“These residencies offer a great addition to our promotion of Las Vegas as a destination that is all about adult freedom. We know that one of the things our visitors love about Las Vegas is that they can have just about any experience they can dream up, and adding shows by some of the world’s most beloved artists, at amazing venues, fits into that narrative perfectly.”
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