Foxwoods Resort Casino has two live entertainment spaces: the Fox Theater and the Grand Theater. (All photos courtesy Foxwoods)

With business good, resort continues to look at adding a third

Foxwoods Resort Casino opened in 1992 in Mashantucket, Conn. It opened its first venue, the 1,370-capacity Fox Theater, in 2003.

“Shows kept selling out,” said Monique Sebastian, who has been the vice president of entertainment and entertainment marketing for five years and with the property for 15 years. “The demands of the market were saying we could sustain a bigger venue while running the Fox Theater as well. We wanted to do more acts on a grander scale with higher-end productions. We wanted more seats, more people and to bring more traffic into the building.”

They wanted to do Broadway. Big concerts. Cirque shows. With that mandate, the nearly 4,000-capacity Grand Theater was opened in 2008.

“There is not much we cannot program in one of the theaters,” Sebastian said. “We run the theaters simultaneously. Obviously, the bigger acts go to the Grand. We tend to program the venues with opposite genres. I try my best not to book the same genre on the same nights. Whatever your palate is, we have programming for you.”

Monique Sebastian.

In the late 1980s or early ’90s, casino venues had a stigma in the eyes of performers, Sebastian said. “It wasn’t a glitz and glam thing to do. If you look at what’s gone on in the last 10 years with Vegas and the residencies and look at all the live event spaces that have opened up in casino venues in Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, San Francisco, San Diego, it’s clear that entertainment is a huge part of the casino world now.”

Many casinos have modernized amenities. They have eco-friendly amenities, over-the-top golf courses and fine dining. They’ve become true resort destinations, and having live entertainment is at the core of what these properties have become, she said.

“We are very strategic about our programming,” said Suzanne Trout, chief marketing officer for Foxwoods, who has been in the casino venue industry for over 30 years. “We use the smaller theater to do things that warrant niche marketing, chase a certain demo and introduce new folks to Foxwoods.”

“We book brand-name acts into the larger theater to attract gamers and nongamers,” she said. “It helps with loyalty for our repeat customers, but, really, entertainment is one of the most significant tools we have that help introduce new people into the integrated resort. It creates a whole experience for them. It’s a critical tool.”

“The theaters are weekend-centric,” Sebastian said. “I book first and foremost for the gaming customer and keep in mind what will entice them to play here and stay here.”

The second thread is looking at the next generation of gaming customers. “People in their 20s and 30s are our next gaming customers and we want to engage them now. It’s a juggling act; there are things the players expect and things the public wants,” she said.

Players want classic rock, comedy and country. The younger demographics want Alicia Keys, Cardi B and Migos. Programming to everyone is key and bringing in diverse acts keeps Foxwoods relevant, she said.

Ticket prices generally run $20-$50 at the Fox Theater and $25-$350 at the Grand Theater.

Sebastian said that normally they keep the face value on the ticket and the artist keeps the lift for meet and greets.

“What the artists does for us is meet our high rollers or members of our tribal nation,” she said. “Here in New England the landscape has become very competitive between the surrounding venues, and progressively it’s getting harder and harder to book talent and be the only venue within reach (that) the artist wants to play in. I pick my battles wisely, and if I can give and take on a meet and greet and not worry about losing the artists, we do not have a problem assisting the artist with that process.”

Concessions are done in house; there are 40 restaurants on the property.

“We could sustain three venues,” Trout said. “We’ve talked about taking it up a notch and building a bigger multipurpose venue, and we’ve also looked at creating smaller venues. We’ve got such a great population between Boston and New York and while entertainment is very competitive, I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there.”

Foxwoods’ Grand Theater has capacity for almost 4,000 fans.

The multipurpose venue would be a combination room for larger entertainment with a capacity of 6,000 to 10,000 as well as a home for convention space and trade shows. “The larger venue path is something we continue to evaluate,” Trout said.

Cooperation between the casino and the venues is vital. “We have placed entertainment under our marketing umbrella, so it’s really integrated with all our other marketing plans. We put on shows with a clear gaming customer in mind and shows with a strategy of introducing new customers.”

With that in mind, Foxwoods offers packages that include food and beverage offerings and bundles with accommodations.

“I’ve been very lucky to work in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, as well as being on properties that attract local audiences, and live entertainment has played a key role in creating that escapist entertainment that customers want if they are going out for a night or the weekend,” Trout said. “Music and performance taps into the emotion of people, and if you come to see someone you loved growing up, it creates a really cool experience.”

Trout added that she doesn’t see entertainment’s key role at gaming resorts changing anytime in the future.

“I feel confident in saying the more entertainment, the better for our property,” added Sebastian. “We’ve come a long way. Now artists want residencies on the Strip and casinos across the country are now part of the normal routing.”

For more on casino entertainment, see our tribal casino spotlight package in the April issue of VenuesNow.