Risk pays off, creates a niche

Ten years ago, AEG Live opened the doors to a big bet called the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

The parent company, now Caesars Entertainment Corp., paid for the 4,200-seat building. AEG footed the bill for the content, namely a star named Celine Dion with an average ticket price of $141.

“If we were wrong at the very beginning, we’d have nothing to show for it,” says John Meglen, who oversees the Colosseum for AEG.

But the theater was so lucrative that the landlord wanted in on the action, jumping in to produce shows now. And as Meglen celebrated the Colosseum’s 10th birthday last week, the building itself seems less significant than the new niche it carved on the Strip.

Not every booking was a home run: Think Bette Midler at the height of the recession. But now, the Colosseum posts such numbers that Meglen says it kills him to have to close it a week to rehearse a new show such as Shania Twain.

It’s no mystery why. The Colosseum brought star power back to the Strip just when a huge gap had formed, leaving the Strip wanting for something between Cirque du Soleil on one end and concert tour stops on the other.

Meglen calls it a “residency.” “We’ve said it many ways over the years, but it’s still going to an artist and saying, ‘Look. That show you always dreamed of making? We got the playground here.’ ” Save the transportation costs, put the money onstage, in an exclusive, heavily produced showcase.

If “residency” isn’t a perfect name, it’s because the right formula turned out to be more a rotation. Dion was the rare star willing to live in town, but a rotation creates more variety for visitors with less commitment from the stars.

The magic number lies between 60 and 75 shows a year. “If it’s too short a run, we can’t give them enough money to spend on the show,” Meglen says.

The name may not be perfect. But Meglen says “we have established a new work type for an artist, a new model called the residency that is accepted today in the live music business.”

Maybe Caesars was lightning in a bottle. The Hard Rock Hotel has proven “a much harder model to show it can be repeated,” Meglen admits.

And Caesars still has holdouts. Meglen says chats with management for Barbra Streisand and Billy Joel never came to fruition. And repetition led to burnout grumblings from Cher and Elton.

But Elton came back, maybe just to see who his roommates will be in the next 10 years. George Strait? David Bowie? The Colosseum proves anything possible.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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