Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wynn on Garth, Bette and Beyonce, A Teleplay

Steve Wynn had asked me not to air the audio of our recent conversation, but he gave me full permission to report the newsworthy stuff that we discussed in writing. I was going to use this sequence about Bette, Garth, Garth's plane, Beyonce and more in different blog posts, but it's so much fun I figured I'd just get out of the way and let the conversation speak for itself. The conversation took place on Nov. 24. Enjoy.

Friess: And when is Bette Midler starting at the Encore?

Wynn: Who? Bette Midler?

Friess: Sure, she’s leaving Caesars, she’ll want another gig.

Wynn: Is Bette leaving?

Friess: Yeah, she’s ending her contract at the end of January. You know that, don’t you?

Wynn: I did not know it.

Friess: Oh, OK. Well, she’s leaving Caesars at the end of January.

Wynn: Who’s taking her place?

Friess: They haven’t said anything yet. Right now the only person that have in there is Cher.

Wynn: Uh-huh.

Friess: So right now they’re out looking for people. And I’m sure you are, too. I’m sure you’re looking for other headliners to fill in for Garth.

Wynn: I only have certain names that I like.

Friess: And I assume Bette’s one of them.

Wynn: Uh, I didn’t know she was leaving until you just told me.

Friess: Can you share some of the other names?

Wynn: No. I don’t want to telegraph what we’re trying to do.

Friess: Well, I’ll tell you this. This idea of doing Garth as this intimate, unplugged thing is fascinating if you do it with other people, too.

Wynn: You can’t do it with other people, Steve. He is so unbelievable when he does it. He walks out with a guitar over his shoulder. The man’s voice, his ability to tell his story, he totally extemporizes. He’s funny, he’s talented, he talks about his history. He talks about Ricky Skaggs to Boz Skaggs, James Taylor to Bob Seger, Billy Joel to Elton John. He sings all their stuff. He does “Against The Wind” better than Seger does. Best thing I’ve seen since the Rat Pack.

Friess: I think somebody like Bette could do an unplugged set, too.

Wynn: I think Bette Midler can do anything she wants. I think she’s the most gifted girl. I think she’s fabulous.

Friess: And you’re gonna be on the phone with her in the next half hour.

Wynn [Laughing]: Well, you gave me the tip off. I’m gonna call her and ask her what she wants to do. And seeing Bette Midler in a 1,500-seat theater is a kick in the ass. To be that close to her?

Friess: I just think it’s a brilliant bit of counterprogramming to get these big stars to do these smaller, more intimate shows.

Wynn: I agree with you. The question is if I can get them to do it. I can’t pay them $500,000 a show. Can’t do it.

Friess: I need to ask you a very simple question about Garth. This idea that you’re buying him a plane. Are you buying him an actual physical plane and he keeps it?

Wynn: He keeps it.

Friess: And he takes it wherever he wants to go.

Wynn: It’s his airplane.

Friess: I’m trying to figure out – those are planes cost $20- or $30 million.

Wynn: This was a great market for airplanes, so it cost a little less. There are hundreds of airplanes for sale.

Friess: Did you buy the one Sarah Palin put on eBay?

Wynn: No, no. I bought him a beautiful Canadair 604. [Click here to see Garth's plane!-sf] It’s a big wide airplane it’s got almost a 4,000 mile range. It can take him anywhere he wants to go but it’s very comfortable. It’s as wide as a Global Express.

Friess: I just don’t understand the math behind this deal.

Wynn: I know. I know ya don’t and that’s because we won’t tell ya.

Friess: Well I understand that, but don’t you see why it would be puzzling? The expense of him and the ticket prices ... and I’ve calculated out the ticket values and I don’t see how you make money.

Wynn: If you take the ticket price and mutliply it by 60 shows at 1500 people a show and you take $125 a ticket and you say well, 'That won't work plus the cost of a jet.'

Friess: Am I wrong?

Wynn: No, you’re right.

Friess: So, how does it work?

Wynn [Laughing]: I don’t wanna tell ya.

Friess [Sighing]: OK.

Wynn: Let’s put it this way. When I got through with Beyonce, I was short. It didn’t work.

Friess: She didn’t really sell out, did she?

Wynn: Yes she did. Absolutely. 100 percent.

Friess: Oh, OK. And the tickets were more expensive.

Wynn: Yeah. But all I’m saying is, we made a terrific amount of money because of the casino. Remember, our only source of income is not the tickets. We have rooms, we have food, beverage and gambling

Friess: Well then I guess the question is, are the shows becoming a loss-leader again.

Wynn: In the case of Garth Brooks, for sure. I don’t mind telling you that.

Friess: Got it.

Wynn: But a loss leader against ticket sales, Steve.

Friess: That’s the old Vegas model then. Cheap entertainment to bring them in to use the other stuff.

Wynn: That’s right. And that’s what Garth is. That’s no secret.

Friess: So is this a function of the economy then?

Wynn: No, no, no, no. It’s a function of getting one of the great world-class performers to compromise so this can happen but even that compromise creates the situation you’re describing. Garth wanted to do this with me. He bent to it. He cooperated. Could Garth Brooks get more money somewhere else? Conceivably yes. But this was the biggest deal I’ve ever made in my life. But it was based upon the fact that I believe Garth Brooks is worth it, that he brings something to our hotel, to our enterprise, a soul, a warmth, a gift to my guests that leave saying that something special happened while they were here. Something they couldn’t see at Texas Stadium or at the Thomas and Mack Arena or Sam Boyd Stadium.

End scene.


Anonymous said...



mike_ch said...

I was going to ask if you got him to go off into Fox News Mode, but I'm more amused that the AdSense ad on this page is an Encore LGBT site. Didn't know Wynn Resorts was going for that angle.

Brian Fey said...

This is pretty easy to figure out. One of the nights Beyonce played Wynn, the casino won $35 million dollars, because they filled the place up, with some people with deep pockets. Yes he lost money on the show itself, but more than made up with it in the casino. That's the plan with Garth. I just wonder if the average Garth fan, has that kind of money to go dropping in a casino. I guess time will tell us.

It just kills me we can't hear this whole interview. :)
Its just full of great stuff I'm sure.


Wynn's been aggressively after the gay travel market for at least five years. The first wedding that took place in the Wynn chapel was Roger Thomas's in fact. Why anyone would think Wynn would be hostile to gays is beyond me. And, no, I chose to stay away from politics -- except for regarding Harry Reid and I'll get to that part -- because the answers were somewhat predictable.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how a casino decides when a performer as a loss leader starts to make money for the casino. Where is the dividing line? When comparing revenue, how does Garth Brooks really pays for his contract? Maybe this is what Wynn didn't want to reveal. Wynn probably has tools to figure it out, but it is mainly just a hunch, an expensive gamble.

Garth Brooks has to consistenly bring gambling revenue to the casino to cover his fees. It looks like Garth didn't compromise as much as Wynn did.

Anonymous said...

I heard Kylie Minogue is currently negotiating with unnamed Vegas casinos. Her very first North American Tour did so well this summer she is thinking about a permanent residency in Vegas....Now there's an idea for ya, Steve Wynn!

Anonymous said...

I think the issue is that Brooks will draw in significant chunk of people who won't be staying, eating and gambling at Wynn. If Wynn had purchased some of the MGM properties he was rumored to be interested in, one of which was out there like Circus Circus, he could cross market Brooks and recapture more the subsidy.

GregoryZephyr said...

By making it difficult for generic ticket brokers and resellers, Wynn is able to more accurately track his ticket buyers with reservations and gaming/f&b sales, etc. I suspect his confidence that Brooks is a loss leader that generates far more in associated profits may be backed up by his data and analysis.

Secondly, the idea that Garth Brooks fans are not profitable is not really supported by the demographics of "country" music especially for foreign fans. There is a misperception that country music excludes a wealth segment and that misunderstanding may be because country music is not considered as "cool" by mainstream media and is often overlooked.


Gregory - I agree with you. I don't know why Garth fans are any less likely to eat on property or, certainly, to gamble there. They cross as many demographics as, certainly, Beyonce fans do. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the average Garth fan was wealthier than the average Beyonce fan based solely on their ages alone.

The reason I had trouble with the math is that I didn't think this whole loss-leader notion existed anymore. Certainly, Wynn was clear for a long time that he felt the shows needed to turn their own profits. That's why he closed AveQ and Spamalot, and folks who went to THOSE shows absolutely were staying, eating and playing at his property. He's obviously gone back to an older model, which is what I was teasing out in this exchange.

The math is still tough. The total potential ticket sales take for Garth's shows is $11.25m a year - if every seat is sold and there are no comps. Add in the cost of the plane AND whatever Garth makes and it is, as the commenter said, a huge gamble. But Wynn's also getting an enormous amount of press and what I heard -- since I'm laid up -- is that the resort was humming with a happy energy yesterday. Those are intangibles.

atdnext said...


Believe it or not, Wynn Resorts this year became the second Nevada casino operator (Harrah's was first last year) to earn a perfect 100% HRC Corporate Equality score... And I'll have to double-check my facts, but I'm 90% sure they were also the very first Nevada company to earn a perfect 100% HRC score in its very first year on the index. As Steve F said above, Wynn is a VERY LGBTQ friendly company that's made nice with queer travelers.


True, true. Staying on the "gay" theme, you'd be surprised by how many of my friends are big country fans... And not just Dolly and Reba, but also Garth. The "country" demographics aren't as monolithic as so many assume.

Steve F-

Thanks for posting this interview!

Since it seems everyone who's anyone on The Strip is pitching for Reid (after all, the election's coming up soon), I don't mind that (after all, I'm also for Reid). Otherwise, it's nice to see a Steve Wynn interview that's less about Milton Friedman economics and George Bush politics, and more about something that Wynn's actually an expert on (Las Vegas casinos).

Anonymous said...

I think you're misreading the demographic of this by making some false assumptions, e.g. that the average Garth fan doesn't have money to eat, stay and gamble at Wynn. Secondly, they're not going after the average Garth fan, who may not have enough money to travel to Las Vegas, much less shop outside of Wal-Mart.

They're going after Garth fans who come to Vegas. My parents and their friends are examples of this. They go to Vegas, they love Garth and they can afford to spend at Wynn.

The mistake here is this offbase stereotype when someone says "Garth fan:" provincial, Nascar-watching, trailer-park-living Midwestern, poor people. This is a false picture of the demo Wynn is focusing on.

Steve's right about the intangibles, and I don't mean HUNCHES that are immeasurable but some DEFINITE revenue streams that are difficult to measure.

For example, I had some friends coming out to see Prince at the Rio. I asked them where they were staying, and they answered at the Rio, of course. I asked them why, and they said because they were coming to see Prince and that's where he was playing. I don't think this is all that unusual for first-time Vegas visitors... that even though they're coming for a 4-day trip, they stay at the place that's the central focus of their trip, even though it's only going to last two hours.

How do you account for that?

-Mike Kalil

Dave said...

There was definitely a happy atmosphere after the concerts. I went the to Saturday 8pm show and it was hands down the best concert I've been to. I do believe though, that you had to already be a Garth fan in order to get the most out of it. It was like VH1 storytellers and MTV's Unplugged wrapped into one. Many thanks to Steve Wynn and Garth!