Artists eager to play Virgin Hotel, even at half-capacity

Talking with Bobby Reynolds is sometimes like playing a round of a game show called, “If You Had Asked Me.”

As in, “If you had asked me a year ago, I would have given you a different answer.”

Reynolds, senior vice president of AEG Live in Las Vegas, customarily places the entertainment world in proper context. During last week’s preview of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, I asked if it’s possible The Theater at Virgin Hotels would book headliners for shows at less than full capacity.

“If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said no way, we can’t sustain those economics,” said Reynolds, whose company is in an exclusive booking agreement with Virgin Hotels at The Theater. “Bands don’t like playing in a venue that’s half-full. My attitude has definitely changed since then, a lot of people’s attitude has changed since then.”

Something about being off the stage for more than a year can change an artist’s attitude.

“If there is an opportunity, when there is an opportunity to go 50 percent, we will definitely consider it,” Reynolds said. “I know for a fact there is a list a mile long of artists that can’t sell out the Joint at its full capacity, and those are the artists who need to work the most, right?”

I then asked when shows would return at any capacity return to the venue, currently undergoing a $7 million refresh.

“If you’d asked me that three short weeks ago, I without pause would have said the middle of September,” Reynolds said. “But we get new news and new information, positive numbers, every single day. Other states are opening up, I might have a different opinion of what Texas and Florida think right now, but that’s just my opinion.

“I’m definitely more inclined to think sooner than the middle part of September, which is what I was thinking before.”

Caesars Entertainment and rival promoter Live Nation are holding to Usher’s opening July 16. At the moment, his show would be the first among Strip headlining productions to return during COVID.

Has Reynolds any thoughts about that date?

“Maybe, right? Maybe. Will I think it’s that early? I don’t know,” Reynolds answered. “I mean, it’s such a fluid situation. A month ago I would have said no way — and by the way, those guys over there weren’t all that bullish about that time. But a lot of great data and a lot of great numbers to maybe mean that could happen.

“I hope it does, I really hope it does.”

Theatrical partnerships

The Theater will be called something more, or other than, simply the Theater at Virgin Hotels. AEG Live and resort operators are still recruiting a party partner in the venue. This has been going on for months. The process is slowed by the pandemic, naturally.

“We’re having great conversations, great dialogue, really just in the past month or so it seems like companies are opening up their checkbooks a bit more,” Reynolds said. “If we were having this conversation 18 months ago, I think we would have had a title sponsor done. Then the world shut down, and good luck with asking people to commit to the live-entertainment sector.”

The talks are “super encouraging,” and Reynolds’ team is committed to adding a sponsor, but no deal is imminent. Reynolds restated the new venue, with about the same seating capacity, would again welcome headlining bands on tour and in residency, and also star comedians in its next iteration.

Across the casino, the old Vinyl room is now known as 24 Oxford. That’s the name of the first Virgin Record Store, which opened at that address in London in 1971. Neither the Theater nor 24 Oxford were ready for visual review on last week’s tour.

Mark this date

Virgin Hotels managed to open in time for an important anniversary. Monday marks the third anniversary of the final partnership meeting at MB Steak between Richard Branson’s investment team from Virgin, and Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s crew from J.C. Hospitality. About 25-30 officials took part in the dinner inside the former Hard Rock Hotel on March 29, 2018. The partnership deal was signed the next day at Breeze pool, with J.C. Hospitality taking majority interest and Virgin with minority interest that includes a licensing agreement to use the company’s famous brand.

No Madness here

Opening a full-service sportsbook during March Madness is no, um, slam dunk.

Virgin Hotels’ Betfred Sports annex isn’t open for NCAA Tournament betting, or any wagering, upon the hotel’s opening Thursday. The book is inside the Mohegan Sun’s 60,000-square-foot casino, a boutique haunt that is the antithesis of such destination fortresses as Circa Sportsbook or the Westgate Superbook.

“We will not be in a position to take action on March Madness,” Mohegan Sun General Manager Joe Hasson said. “It’ll take us until Q2 (the second quarter) to have suitability and licensing for Betfred.” This is true of the Betfred app, as NHL and Major League Baseball will not be available for wagering through the U.K.-based company.

Bettors will be able to wager on the Betfred app, but it too requires licensing approval. NCAA Tournament wagering, of course, is a massive revenue producer, though Westgate’s Jay Kornegay says this year’s handle is deflated because of 50 percent capacity restrictions in the book.

Regardless, it’s wait ‘til next year at Virgin for NCAA Tournament betting in person, and on the phone.

“I’ll enjoy March Madness,” Hasson said. “I’m a basketball fan. I’m an old, frustrated basketball player, too.”

‘The Voice’ epilogue

You might remember, or not, “The Voice — Neon Dreams” stage show planned to open in September 2018. This was the rare production that was first an exciting concept, then an eyesore, then a sore subject, and now a largely forgotten piece of Vegas entertainment history.

The show was to be a live adaptation of “The Voice” prime-time contest show on NBC. Construction started on a fancy, theater-in-the-round near the corner of Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue. But production company Base Entertainment pulled the show from the property as plans for construction of Virgin Hotels were laid out. The unfinished, 700-seat theater stood for a time before being disassembled in the hotel’s expansion plans.

After the two sides wound up in litigation, Base Entertainment Chairman and CEO Brian Becker said Tuesday the respective companies reached an agreement out of court to move on. Bosworth and reps at J.C. Hospitality have so far declined to give voice to this matter …

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at [email protected] Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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