Cirque du Soleil remains dominant force as Las Vegas entertainment

Live entertainment has often been a stabilizing force in the fluctuating Las Vegas economy, adapting quickly to radical changes in the market and rolling out splashy and popular new acts, conveying confidence that a rebound is in the cards for 2010.

Since the full brunt of the recession hit about a year ago, Las Vegas has become a bargain hunter’s paradise. Discounts abound as hotels struggle to fill rooms, casinos try to lure gamblers and shows use unique marketing techniques to sell tickets.

Cirque du Soleil, the dominant brand in Las Vegas with seven resident shows, has weathered the downturn with basically flat revenues. That’s a bright spot compared with the declines seen in other sectors, says Jerry Nadal, VP of resident shows worldwide.

“With that being said, we’re having to work harder this year — as is everybody else — to get people in the door to the shows,” he says.

Among the major challenges in 2009 was a major drop-off in convention business, putting a huge dent in most shows’ advance and group sales. And with every sector discounting rates to lure visitors to town, shows have taken to bundling their tickets into packages that include everything from a hotel room and spa discounts to gaming credits and free nightclub admissions.

“Where a lot of those items used to be stand-alone areas, now people are coming here looking for value,” Nadal says. “We had to refine and retool our entire marketing approach to this market.”

The market has changed so drastically that many visitors arrive in town with no reservations of any kind and decide where to stay and what shows to see when they arrive. Last-minute ticket sales have grown substantially.

Such tactics have helped sell tickets, but the discounts hurt when the cost of mounting a show is fixed, says “Jersey Boys” producer Scott Zeiger.

“We have to do a good job of containing our expenses and staying competitive on a ticket price point and waiting out the economy,” Zeiger adds.

For the long term, discount rates are helping to broaden the aud for ticketed shows, luring patrons who normally would not consider paying for a full-price seat.

No one expects the downturn to last, but no one knows exactly when the corner will be turned and things such as convention business will pick up.

Big attractions remain a strong draw, including’s Cirque’s “Viva Elvis” and Garth Brooks’ arrival as a headliner at the Wynn Hotel.

Brooks, in particular, has made a splash, selling out his first 20 concerts in a matter of hours at $125 per ticket.

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