MGM's Murren Talks Local Marketing

Massive casino properties are widespread and focused on their community

  • by Linda Deckard
  • Published: June 20, 2018

Sheila Francis, communications consultant and president of EAMC; Jim Murren, CEO, MGM Resorts International; and Jim Delaney, Activate Sports & Entertainment. (VT Photo)

LAS VEGAS — Referring to new MGM projects in Springfield, Mass., and MGM National Harbor in the Washington, D.C., area, Jim Murren’s best advice to arena marketers was localization.

“What will work everywhere is a localized experience. MGM is not homogenous. National Harbor is very different than Springfield, which is more casual, industrial and urban,” said Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, in his keynote at the Event & Arena Marketing Conference here June 13-15.

“Know your customer and get local buy-in. We spend a lot of time on the history of communities. Tap into that pride. That’s the most impactful — tailored, curated, customized, localized experiences that can only happen in your town; it wouldn’t make sense somewhere else.”

The MGM resort and casino is Springfield opens in August at a cost of $950 million, Murren said. They will incorporate MassMutual Center, once known as the Springfield Civic Center, which will probably be renamed MGM Arena. It’s an urban renewal project and will help a “once mighty city pulling itself out from a tornado in 2011. We will bring a lot of content ideas.”

The best part is, creating a sense of community can be done relatively inexpensively, he added.

Murren, who joined MGM 20 years ago, when it was a very gaming-centric company, said he was immediately challenged by founder Kirk Kerkorian to think about what the next horizon could be. “We concluded 10 years ago we had to absolutely own entertainment. Slot machines and tables are the commodity business. We are trying to create experiences. The money we’ve invested since 2008 has been almost exclusively non-gaming – expanding our convention centers, building theaters, building T-Mobile Arena, building public spaces. We can thus appeal to more people.”

The vision also involves taking the massive employee pool and properties out of silos and making MGM one global entertainment platform. In the process, they have changed the culture of the company in an industry that is slow to change.

CityCenter, which includes Aria and Crystals and Mandarin Oriental, helped change that culture. “We wanted to create something sustainable, green and architecturally forward,” Murren said. “Our customers are more international, well traveled and are not looking for another themed hotel.”

But that project was not without roadbumps. Construction started in 2006, and involved a $5 billion bank deal. Then the great recession hit. MGM was faced with shutting down or continuing to overequitize. Though financial advisers said cut and run, MGM, which was the largest employer and taxpayer in the state, chose to bite the bullet and move ahead.

“We were mission driven,” Murren said.” My board had the confidence and courage to continue to plow through it. We never missed a day and opened on time in 2009. CityCenter now employs 10,000 people and is very profitable.”

And that dials back to the company culture. MGM took care of its employees and they took care of the guests. “Nobody has to come to Las Vegas; we are creating entertainment experiences. A bad customer experience with an employee and they never come back. My employees did not give up.”

Murren has studies to show that live entertainment is the most important element people cite in terms of improvement to their quality of life, vital to human existence.

Technology is an enabler to personalize the experience. “A lot of our guests want to use their phone as a key – at the end of next year our 42,000 hotel rooms here in Las Vegas will all have a digital key, which will be groundbreaking.” That already exists at the Delano, he said.  The growth path for MGM has been physical spaces first, employees second, technology enhancements third.

T-Mobile Arena is a shining example of technology through collaborative partnerships, he said. “We’re a partnering type of company; we have long relationships with lots of partners.”

One is AEG, which is MGM’s partner in T-Mobile Arena. Together, they created a different kind of arena, where nightclubs are front and center and premium is king. They stold a lot of ideas from stadiums and arenas around the world, like bunker suites from the Cleveland Indians’ dugout suites.

“MGM and AEG want to do more things together and, stay tuned, we will,” he promised.

The impact of 1 October, when hundreds of people were gunned down at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, is forever seared on the Vegas scene and the MGM culture, but the highlight is that the Golden Knights of the NHL helped lift the city as they raced toward raising the Stanley Cup. Even though they lost the Cup, the pride in the Knights is still being felt.

“In my personal opinion there is no greater athlete than a hockey player in terms of their consistency and humility, the quality of the human being,” Murren said. “They knew they had to reach out to the community and they did.”

It was six months before MGM Resorts resumed the “We’re in the holy sh*t business” marketing campaign, which had been rolled out and then taken down just two weeks before 1 October.

“The moment it happened, we went dark everywhere,” Murren said. “It would have been completely inappropriate to promote fun at such a horrific time.”

Murren repeated his prediction that it is just a matter of time before Las Vegas scores an NBA team. The Knights have proved it’s a viable maket. MGM bought a WNBA team, which is doing well, and sponsors the NBA Summer League each year.

“Within next four years, we’ll find a team to move in here,” Murren predicted. “First we want to see how the Raiders (NFL) do."

Asked about the Raiders fan base, characterized as “the most god-awful,” by Jim Delaney, Activate Sports & Entertainment, who joined Murren for the Q&A, Murren opined that Vegas is a unique environment and the new stadium will be first class. Fans behave differently in a beautiful stadium, he said..

Raiders fans in Las Vegas will be traveling to see the friends who moved to Vegas and root for their team, he predicted. “When the Seahawks play the Raiders, a lot of people will come down and visit friends to see the game. The composition will be different,” Murren predicted.

Diversity and sustainability are both hallmarks of the MGM corporate culture, and Murren concluded with his professional opinion on those topics. When he came to Las Vegas, he felt it was his duty to make demonstrable change.

“We have 80,000 employees, 68 percent minorities, 51 percent women; a third of my board is female. If you don’t have leaders that you can relate to, you’re missing out,” he said.

“I can show you empirically how financially it makes sense. I know my retention rates are better, absenteeism is better,” he began. MGM has instituted health programs that make a difference and that has helped them expand to places like Maryland and Massachusetts.

“We spent $87 million to leave the Nevada Energy Power Grid and we’re building a 100 megawatt, 640-acre solar array a couple miles from here and built the largest solar roof in the city on Mandalay Bay Convention Center. These kinds of things don’t necessarily pencil out, but people do care and increasingly care about where they spend their money. If a company has the values important to them, they will invest in those companies.”

Murren is focused on really staying focused on entertainment and sports.

  • by Linda Deckard
  • Published: June 20, 2018