Rock in Rio to build ‘theme park for music’ on Las Vegas Strip

The northern end of the Las Vegas Strip is expected to see a boost in traffic when music festival promoter Rock in Rio opens the City of Rock in May 2015.

Rock in Rio USA announced a partnership on April 21 with MGM Resorts International and Cirque du Soleil to build and market the four-day festival. The partnership will also allow MGM Resorts to use the City of Rock, a 33-acre permanent outdoor concert venue, to host events when not being used by Rock in Rio.

Billed as the “world’s largest music festival,” Rock in Rio was founded in 1985 by Brazilian entrepreneur and advertiser Roberto Medina. At that first festival, which featured such rock stars as Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne and Queen, some 1.4 million people attended.

Since launching, Rock in Rio has produced 13 festivals. According to the company, more than 7 million people have attended a Rock in Rio festival.

Rendering of the City of Rock in Las Vegas. Source: Rock in Rio USA

The Las Vegas lineup is still in the early stages and no acts have been announced yet, Medina said. Rock in Rio’s inaugural festival in Las Vegas will be held over two weekends in May 2015. One weekend will be centered around pop music, and the other, around rock, he said.

“If you consider the previous artist lineup in our history, they’re phenomenal,” he said. “It’s a theme park for music.”

Plans released for the City of Rock describe its three themed streetscapes as mimicking those found in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the U.S., and would include a Ferris wheel designed to look like a roulette wheel; a roller coaster and zip line; and five stages. Rock in Rio is investing $75 million to build the City of Rock.

Las Vegas is also scheduled to host Rock in Rio in 2017 and 2019 at the City of Rock.

Rock in Rio USA is an extension of the original festival, founded just as Brazil was transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy. His country, Medina said, was facing serious economic issues, and he wanted the festival to become a movement.

His concept is simple. Drop the pretense that rock festivals shouldn’t have sponsorships, and instead, actively seek those out and promote them in the year leading up to the festival.

“It’s not different than what you do with sports, but now we’re doing it with music,” he said.

Medina said he chose Las Vegas for Rock in Rio USA not only for the services available to festival-goers, but also because of its close proximity to the California market.

Bill Hornbuckle, president and chief marketing officer for MGM Resorts, said while California is a major feeder market, MGM Resorts is more interested in drawing in international tourists to the biannual festival.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase Las Vegas on an international scale,” he said. “It’s a brand that’s known throughout South America as the rock ‘n’ roll entertainment music. It’s known throughout Europe. We’ll focus heavily on packaging those two destinations.”

He said 300,000 people are expected to come to Las Vegas for Rock in Rio in the festival’s first year. For perspective, he said that last year, Rock in Rio in Brazil sold out of its 600,000 tickets within four hours.

“We’re talking about an event that we hope by 2019, the third time it’s held here, we can get it up to eight days (in a year),” and up to 80,000 people attending the event,” he said. “You’re talking 600,000 people who could ultimately come to Las Vegas.

“It can happen (in Las Vegas). It can very easily happen.”

He described Rock in Rio as a “marketing machine,” spending $30 million just to promote one of its festivals, bringing in large sponsors.

“The value for us is to continue to expose the brand, not only our brands, but the city of Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world,” he said. “When you bring the party to the Strip, and put 80,000 people on the Strip (per day), it’s going to change the mind-thought about a lot of this.”

MGM Resorts is investing about $20 million to build the City of Rock, Hornbuckle said. He foresees other kinds of festivals happening at the City of Rock, such as country and jazz music festivals. The venue is also designed to hold 40,000 people for a soccer match, and 50,000 people for UFC boxing, he said.

“It helps bring to life the north end of the Strip, which is something that is desperately needed,” he said. “While we love locals, for us, this is about driving tourism as hard as we can.”

Cirque du Soleil, which offers eight resident shows on the Las Vegas Strip, will not have artists performing at Rock in Rio, said Jerry Nadal, senior vice president of Cirque’s resident shows division. Instead, Cirque is very much behind-the-scenes and is acting as an investor in the venture. The production company, though, is considering the City of Rock for its own use when Rock in Rio is not in town, he said.

“The site itself can lend itself to any number of things and the beautiful thing is, it’s right on the Las Vegas Strip,” Nadal said. “It will draw right up and down the whole (Las) Vegas Boulevard corridor.

“Just the thought of having all that top talent over two weekends in a festival setting is incredible,” Nadal said.