As the rich get richer, Connecticut's entertainment venues are vying for a bigger slice of the summer concert market, trying to broaden their brand with audiences and artists.
"It is no secret that the competition in Connecticut is growing," said Monique Sebastian, executive director of entertainment at Foxwoods Resort Casino. "The market is not getting any bigger, and we feel there needs to be something here for everyone."
Connecticut's top concert destination — Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville — is on track for another record-breaking year with up to 40 acts at the 10,000-seat venue, including 18 sellouts.
"I like to think we are the Madison Square Garden of Connecticut," said Tom Cantone, vice president for sports and entertainment at Mohegan Sun. "A lot of our shows are selling out in minutes."
In Harford, the XL Center is running out its last summer season — highlighted by a Justin Bieber concert on July 18 and the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in August — before management of the facility transfers from AEG to Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum at the end of August.
Global also will take over operations of Rentschler Field in East Hartford at the end of the summer, looking to reassert the venues' value as entertainment destinations.
"We are certainly always looking to have a varied events schedule," said Chris Lawrence, incoming general manager for the XL Center and Rentschler Field for Global.
Bringing the crowds to XL and Rentschler is finding the right combination of which acts are drawing, who will be in the area over the summer, and marketing those acts to the right audiences, Lawrence said.
Summer will be hard for the XL Center because many concert artists prefer outside, Lawrence said. Stadiums can be a tough sell because costs for tours tends to be more compared to outdoor venues such as the Comcast Theatre in Hartford.
"It is kind of just everything what the artist and the tours are looking for," Lawrence said.
The Comcast Theatre — operated by Live Nation, Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif. — has scheduled 19 acts so far for the summer, including The Zac Brown Band and John Mayer. Its sister facility The Oakdale Theatre, also operated by Live Nation, has 10 acts scheduled, including Jill Scott and O.A.R.
Another Hartford entertainment venue looking to branch out into outdoor entertainment is The Bushnell, which for the first time will partner with Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center to put on a summer concert series.
"Some of the biggest tours are only playing outdoor venues," said Ric Waldman, Bushnell director of programs. "We can do shows that we couldn't otherwise do at The Bushnell."
The three tours playing for the Bushnell's outdoor series are Harry Connick Jr., Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, and Peter Frampton's Guitar Circus.
The Bushnell has its own summer programs at its Hartford venue — highlighted by Diana Ross on Aug. 13 — but the summer program offsets a slow period for the theater, Waldman said. Plus, the outdoor series increases the diversity of The Bushnell's offerings, hopefully leading to a broader audience for all programming.
"It is always good when you see a variety of programming like this in our schedule," Waldman said. "We can attract a bigger cross-section of the community."
Hartford's Riverfront Recapture summer program seeks to add diversity to its offerings as well, which are highlighted by the Riverfront Latin World Rhythms Festival on Sept. 7.
"We want to feature the Latin American cultures that are now thriving in the Hartford area," said Charlie Myers, Riverfront Recapture director of programs and events.
Riverfront had been unable to add new programming for the past four years because of lack of money, Myers said, so this year the new additions like Latin Rhythms is increasing the organization's reach. Its other programming includes dragon boat races, movies in the park, a symphony concert, and an obstacle course race.
"We are seeing a more positive response from the corporate community," Myers said. "We are finally back in a position where we can do some creative things."
Diversity of programming is the new focus for Foxwoods in Mashantucket, which is offering entertainment like Billy Idol, Counting Crows, old school hip-hop, HBO boxing, and comedian George Lopez.
"We want to do something for everyone," Sebastian said.
Foxwoods wants to use its concerts to expose the property to an eclectic audience, particularly a younger crowd, hoping it leads to increased revenues throughout the property, Sebastian said. The resort offers two main stages, the MGM Grand Theater and the Fox Theater.
Picking the right act also means selecting those with the proper ticket prices, Sebastian said. Concert goers increasingly are picky about where they spend their entertainment money. Although they still will shell out top dollar for the bigger acts, audiences still want value.
"We need to have something for everyone's pallet and everyone's wallet," Sebastian said.
Mohegan Sun has noticed the new trend in audience attitude toward pricing, which started about three years ago, Cantone said. However, many of Mohegan's most expensive shows — Beyonce, Bruno Mars, The Eagles — all sold out their tickets in less than 10 minutes.
While keeping an eye on value, the most important factor in booking strategies is timing, figuring out who will be hot with audiences during the concert season, Cantone said.
"You win the day if you have the right timing," Cantone said.
Mohegan Sun Arena is ranked as the No. 3 concert venue in the U.S. and No. 4 in the world by Billboard magazine. Since the arena opened 10 years ago, the venue has put on more than 1,500 shows with nearly 15 million attendees.
The arena not only resonates with audience, but it earned a reputation among the artists and their representatives for seamlessly putting on shows and addressing issues before they become problems, Cantone said.
"The casino stages used to be the final stop in an artist's career, but now we are the starting point for their U.S. tours," Cantone said. "It helps our arena sits inside a $2 billion megaresort."