Shows, Shows and more shows! Vegas 2012.
The whole city of Las Vegas seems to be awash in magic shows at the moment. I have watched the growth of the four-wall market show for magic shows with a great deal of interest. I thought it might be a good topic to talk business rather than personalities in the magic area for a column or two.
Let me begin by saying with a certain modest pride that I was one of the very first people to launch a one-man magic show in Las Vegas that met with critical and commercial success. It was called ‘Comedy Magic’ and played at the Maxim Hotel and Casino from June 1995 until the Casino closed. It was the first one-man day show in Las Vegas, with shows at 1:00 and 3:00pm. In effect the show continued with Mac King at Harrah’s and is successfully running to this day.
When I co-created ‘Comedy Magic’ I did so for a very specific reason—I wanted to get of the road and be working in one city so I could be with my wife and two young daughters. For nearly five years this worked really well and it was, over all, a good experience. I received a salary from the hotel and made nice bonus cash with sales of my VHS and DVD products. We were NOT a four-wall deal.
At this point I know many of my readers are going, “What the hell is a four-wall’ deal? Let me try and make it simple. For this kind of deal, the hotel rents the performer the four walls of the showroom, and everything within it. The performer is then responsible for paying the personnel within the room and backstage. He is also responsible for the advertising costs of promoting the show. Sometimes he also gets a percentage of the drinks sold in the room, but generally the door charge is his source of income.
Now while that last statement is basically the facts of the matter a multitude of variables can come into play, not to mention the issue of three and two wall deals! Add to these possible variations the fact that it is unlikely for two couples seated next to each other in a showroom to have paid the same price for their tickets as it is for two unrelated people on an airplane flight to have paid the same amount for their ticket. It get’s very complicated and very cut-throat!
The greatest change in Las Vegas in the last 15 years is the fact that hotels now find it profitable to rent out their showrooms as many times a day as they can, without much interest in whether the shows make a profit or not, There is a never ending stream of performers who find it worthwhile taking a chance on mounting a show in Vegas—even if it is just for the residual benefits of saying they starred in a Las Vegas show.
Originally, and still in some cases, the casinos produced the show themselves (or worked with established producers), and worked hard to assist in filling the showrooms. If you spent a few million dollars on a show you were not as cavalier about its success because you wanted your investment back!
Now, for the maximum chance of success, it has become more viable to look to a world famous concern like ‘Cirque du Soleil,’ and have a big name in the entertainment field to hedge your showroom bet. Cirque is to Vegas what the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise is to Disney. In Las Vegas the Criss Angel vehicle ‘Believe’ was the first crack in this successful formula. The company changed its tactics over this project and reduced its involvement to avoid damage to the franchise.
This development has left a very big gap and distance between the kinds of shows that are populating the Vegas strip. To compound the difficulties in the Vegas show market is the fact that there are fewer visitors, and they are spending less money on entertainment. Good news for the ‘small’ shows one would think, until you realize the immense increase in discounted ticketing to the ‘big’ shows.
Along the way, and well worth mentioning, are shows such as ‘V’ (an excellent show) that have a vastly inflated ticket price, with a large slice going to independent ticket sellers who broker the tickets. This is a very savvy and successful way to market a ‘real show,’ how successful it is for selling a single and relatively unknown performer is another matter.
Soon I we will continue in this series of blogs about the economics and realities of staging a magic show in a market as specific as ‘Sin City.’ We will also look at the way some magic shows, such as Chipper Lowell’s ‘Blink’ and ‘It’s Magic’ tackle marketing in a less confined target zone.