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Rock in Rio USA says expect a bigger, better Las Vegas event in 2017

Rock in Rio USA: Day 4

Tom Donoghue /

In this file photo, the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds are shown during 2015 Rock in Rio USA. The festival grounds are among nine locations that have been identified as potential sites for an NFL stadium.

Updated Monday, May 18, 2015 | 2:25 p.m.

2015 Rock in Rio USA: Day 1

The first day of Rock in Rio USA on Friday, May 8, 2015, featured The Pretty Reckless, Foster the People, Mana, No Doubt and more on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

2015 Rock in Rio USA: Day 2

Day 2 of Rock in Rio USA on Saturday, May 9, 2015, with Rise Against, Metallica and more on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

Rock in Rio USA Day 3: Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift performs at Rock in Rio USA on Friday, May 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Rock in Rio USA: Day 4

2015 Rock in Rio USA Day 4 featured Bruno Mars, John Legend, Empire of the Sun, Joss Stone, pictured here, and more Saturday, May 16, 2015, at MGM Resorts Festival Grounds. Launch slideshow »

The rendering had to come to life.

That was the chief objective of organizers of Rock in Rio USA. The first installment of the two-weekend music festival played its final notes late Saturday night with a bounding performance by Bruno Mars. His set capped a total of about 40 hours of music and peripheral entertainment and attractions spread over two weekends at MGM Resorts Festival Grounds.

As expected, the event was a massive undertaking as the first production ever at the new venue on the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and the Strip. It also was the first staging of Rock in Rio in the United States.

As it was, Rock in Rio USA’s success is measured by the fact that what was presented on that parcel matched the detailed model unveiled publicly for the first time in September.

“Many people were not believing that we would be able to do what we did,” Rock in Rio Executive Vice President Roberta Medina said in a phone interview Monday morning. “Sponsors, media, fans, even some bands were not believing we could make this happen.”

What Rock in Rio USA was left with was that fancy rendering and a marketing push to educate the uninitiated about what Rock in Rio is about. The name itself was something to address, as it presented a couple of challenges: The event is not expressly a rock event (pop, rap and EDM also are represented in these festivals), nor is it expressly staged in Rio.

Event officials made an early, and curious, decision to have its first major announcement of talent at Times Square in New York, where No Doubt showed up for a photo op and former Rock in Rio headliner John Mayer performed. In January, organizers staged an announcement of such artists as Sam Smith and Charli XCX at the Village recording studios in Los Angeles.

The outside-in strategy was reflected in the festival’s regional breakdown, the numbers provided by Medina: Eighteen percent of fans who attended were from outside the United States. Of the 82 percent of festivalgoers from the U.S., just 15 percent were Las Vegas residents.

One theory is that early estimations of as many as 82,000 fans expected on the Strip each night might actually have scared off potential local ticket-buyers. The relatively high cost of tickets, at $300 per weekend for a GA pass and $500 for VIP access, also was out of the range for many Las Vegas music fans.

“I think people were expecting a traditional festival, and this is not a traditional festival where you camp out. This is a tourist destination in a city, surrounded by hotels, and it is a party in a venue where there is more than just the music,” Medina said. “But it can be really tough to communicate our message for the first edition. We will have another discussion about marketing. We have been concentrating on California, Arizona and Nevada.

“Maybe if we had it to do over again, we would have the New York party instead in L.A., in the Las Vegas market. But we are not giving up on our national campaign.”

As announced Sunday by festival officials, the total attendance at Rock in Rio USA was 172,000 over two weekends. The final numbers from Pop Weekend on Friday and Saturday were reportedly 90,000, or 42,000 on the first night (when Taylor Swift headlined) and 48,000 on Saturday (for the show closed by Mars).

But numbers from other sources familiar with attendance were 30,000 on Friday and 35,000 on Saturday for Pop Weekend. The public information department of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department issued a report after Saturday’s show of 29,715 in attendance but on Monday referred additional questions about attendance to the festival’s PR team.

“We have access to the right numbers, and we have had a wonderful turnout,” Medina said. “Of course, we want more. We always want more. But we have done pretty good if you look at music events in this country and how they develop. In a town like Las Vegas, where it is such a destination with so much going on, it can be more complicated. But we had a wonderful event.”

Even today, Medina and Rock in Rio officials are laying the groundwork for how to build on the Las Vegas event. Potential sponsors who were initially skeptics now have a real, live event to gauge. Some ideas that were not enacted for sponsorship attractions — such as branded dance contests and similar attractions — will be developed.

The event is back in 2017 and committed to a long run in Las Vegas. Medina once more broached the idea of staging Rock in Rio USA annually, but not in 2016. There is not enough time, and the event in Rio is fast developing.

“Maybe, after 2017, we will do it every year,” she said. “But now we are going to sit down and go over what was good and what wasn’t and do it even better next time.”

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