As timing goes, the first Red Sox Winter Weekend at the MGM Springfield casino is awkward for both sides.
That the Red Sox had a rough week is an understatement: The ball club just lost its manager to a cheating scandal and is scrambling to right itself before the start of spring training next month.
And MGM Springfield has its own problems.
On Wednesday, the entertainment complex posted its worst monthly gaming numbers yet — just under $19 million in revenue — an unneeded reminder that the nearly $1 billion development in Western Massachusetts has fallen below expectations since it opened in August 2018.
Yet when Jim Murren, the chief executive of MGM Resorts International, flies in from Las Vegas to greet Red Sox owners and players in Springfield on Friday, he will bring a plan to change up the business mix at the company’s first bricks-and-mortar operation in New England.
What will draw more customers, Murren said — and ultimately lead them to spend more time and money on the slot machines and the gaming tables at MGM Springfield — are more events like Winter Weekend: more concerts and more comedy acts to a venue that’s competing with two well-established tribal casinos not far away in Connecticut.
Expanding MGM Springfield’s association with sports will also help.
Legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts should lift the casino’s fortunes, Murren said, as will maximizing its business partnership with the Red Sox and expanding and establishing relationships with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium and at TD Garden, home to the Bruins and Celtics.
MGM Resorts International is a global company that had $3.3 billion in revenue in its most recent quarter. The corporate mother ship can weather a sluggish start in Springfield, but Murren said it’s going to take time.
“We know that we need to drive a more consistent entertainment calendar in order to gain more consistent growth in gaming revenue,” Murren said earlier this week. “We’ve been around for a long time as a company. Some of these properties ramp up really super quickly, like our MGM National Harbor [near Washington, D.C.], one that we opened a few years ago. Some of them take longer, like this one, but we’re in it for the long game.”
MGM Resorts, the largest employer in Nevada, also owns well-known Las Vegas properties: the Mirage, Bellagio, MGM Grand, New York-New York, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay.
In Las Vegas, MGM gets 70 percent of its revenue from non-gaming activity, Murren said. He hopes MGM can market the Springfield casino much as it does its Vegas properties: first and foremost as a night out or a trip for entertainment.
“I think it’s a matter of marketing, what we actually provide at MGM from a holistic entertainment experience,” Murren said. “When we have a concert, like an Aerosmith concert or Cher concert or several of the big tent-pole events we have, we have tremendous gaming numbers during those times.
“But when we have a lighter entertainment calendar, we have underperformed on the gaming side. Our non-gaming business has been quite strong — our hotel business, our food and beverage business have been above plan, the entertainment has been pretty much on track.”
From the start, Murren said, the emphasis in Springfield was to make it a destination beyond gambling, with theaters, bowling alleys and even the Kringle Candle Emporium giving families options apart from the casino floor.
“The non-gaming elements of it don’t generally get that type of investment in most of these types of casinos, but we’ve learned over time that it provides a much more stable revenue platform, and there’s an awful lot of synergy between these several different businesses,” he said.
Space is reserved at MGM Springfield for a sports betting operation in hopes it will be legalized in Massachusetts.
“The rollout of sports betting around the US is occurring, albeit at a slower pace than anyone predicted, and Massachusetts is a case in point where we’re hopeful that good legislation moves forward, but it hasn’t happened yet in the timeframe that people predicted, say, three years ago,” Murren said.
MGM has gaming partnerships with all the major sports leagues — except the biggest of them all, the NFL. The company wants to replicate the type of one-on-one relationship it has with the Red Sox with other sports teams. Murren is from Fairfield, Conn., grew up as a Yankees fan, and played baseball at Trinity College. But he said he converted to cheering for the Red Sox in 2013, after hearing David Ortiz’s impassioned speech at Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Winter Weekend is just the latest example of the MGM-Red Sox union. The event this weekend will feature a town-hall-style meeting and presentation with Red Sox owners and executives, panel discussions, and opportunities for fans to get autographs and photos of Red Sox players.
The company’s partnership also includes the MGM Resorts logo adorning the Green Monster, while the team has begun construction on the MGM Music Hall next to Fenway Park, scheduled to open next year.
MGM Resorts has a sponsorship and hospitality deal with the Patriots that includes signage at Gillette Stadium. Murren said he and Jonthan Kraft, the son of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, speak frequently. Murren still sounds wowed from a visit to Patriots camp last summer that included a photo with Tom Brady, and he suggested that MGM is pursuing other business ideas with the team, as well.
Delaware North, owner of the Bruins and TD Garden, operates casinos and resorts in other states. Murren said he had had “a couple of nice meetings with the Delaware North folks,” another possible route to increase MGM’s brand awareness around New England.
Said Murren: “We believe that anything we can do to weave together sports and live entertainment throughout Massachusetts — not just Eastern or Western Massachusetts, but throughout the whole region — can be of great benefit to us because we’re creating more reasons for people to be part of the MGM ecosystem.”