Keith Sheldon, President of Entertainment

"One of Hard Rock’s key differentiators is we are an entertainment company at our core, with music in our DNA"

Keith Sheldon, President of Entertainment for Hard Rock International.
Reading time 4:30 min

As President of Entertainment for Hard Rock International, Keith Sheldon is the man behind securing some of the world's major acts for the legendary brand, including Bruce Springsteen, Paramore, Billy Joel and Mötley Crüe – just to name a few artists slated for shows across Hard Rock venues this year alone.

In his capacity, Sheldon oversees the entire entertainment portfolio for the company, from casinos to cafes and hotels; from Atlantic City to Seminole Gaming's home state of Florida. "At Hard Rock, we like to say we’re in the big event business," the executive tells Yogonet in an exclusive interview. "We want to provide our guests with incredible memories through once-in-a-lifetime moments."

In the case of casino entertainment, those "magic" moments take part within a broader ecosystem  – the music show can work as a cog in a larger wheel, attracting customers to play and stay through an irresistible hook.

But whether booking legacy acts or newer stars; or selling out tickets for thousands of attendees at a casino-adjacent arena or just a few hundred at an intimate venue, the key is knowing the strengths of each space and keeping in mind that there is no such thing as a one-size fits all approach.

The Hard Rock brand is one that certainly enjoys strong recognition within the entertainment sector. What would you say are the keys to this prestige?

An established brand like Hard Rock has such a rich history and sets such a high level of expectation with guests that the biggest challenge is to ensure that you not only live up to those expectations—but exceed them. 

I think it is fair to say that we are resonating with youth culture more than may have been the case pre-pandemic. The success we’ve seen with Gen Z and millennial demographics through shows like Maluma, Maneskin, Greta Van Fleet, Dave Chappelle, Post Malone, Chainsmokers, and Sabrina Carpenter really back that up. 

These acts showcase how we are ushering in the next generation of fans, while not alienating our lifelong fans by continuing to feature legacy acts and icons like Clapton, The Who, Van Morrison, and Guns N Roses. While we will never lose sight of our roots, we are also eager to keep on evolving.

Hard Rock International has become not just a music-related destination but an overall entertainment force. Brand expansions and substantial investments in recent years have meant new concert venues such as the 6,500-seat Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida; the 1,500-seat Hard Rock Event Center at its Tampa property; the creation of the “Guitar Hotel” at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood; and the opening of the luxury Hard Rock Hotel New York and The Venue on Music Row, to name a few. 

A solid entertainment offering can be highly beneficial to casino properties, as not all is about gaming. What are the keys to offering a successful entertainment mix in this space? What would you say sets apart live events in casinos from those in other settings, such as large stadiums?

I think one of Hard Rock’s key differentiators is we are an entertainment company at our core, with music in our DNA. With the investments that the brand has made in creating some of the most beautiful theaters in the world – most notably Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, FL – our focus is driving the biggest musical acts in the world to our properties. Because of that, we’re seeing great success on a retail sales basis, as well, which is highlighting live events as opportunities to drive the bottom line beyond just marketing functions.

Just this year alone we have the likes of Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, Janet Jackson, Katt Williams, Paramore and Kevin James doing shows at our various locations in the U.S. Large stadiums are still a big draw, of course, but we are noticing a major appetite for the once in a lifetime opportunity to experience these A-list performances at more intimate settings

Outside of our casino properties, The Venue on Music Row at Hard Rock Hotel New York, for example, is an extraordinary bi-level entertainment event space with a capacity for up to only 400 guests. This intimate space truly comes alive when hosting some of the city’s most sought-after cultural moments and A-list performances, as well as fashion shows, after-parties, and gala dinners. 

Acts like Florence and the Machine, John Legend, and Halsey that have all played the room demonstrate the brand’s commitment to live music regardless of whether we’re in a casino, resort, cafe, or restaurant setting.  

In addition to concerts, sometimes hosting major events can be just as important for a brand. How does Hard Rock approach this segment? And with so many properties under Hard Rock’s portfolio, what is the key to efficient management and knowing what will work for each one?

Events such as the F1 Miami Grand Prix, the Latin AMAs, the launch of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and hosting world-class globally televised boxing matches are incredibly important for creating positive brand perception beyond just increased awareness. Expanding into these different sectors really helps us garner more eyes on Hard Rock International than we ever had before. 

In regard to overseeing entertainment at so many properties, it definitely helps to have such a talented team at those individual locations. If I’m doing my job the right way, I’m creating good processes, creating a good strategy and we have terrific boots-on-the-ground folks that are coming up with their own ideas and executing on their end, too. 

Our properties are all different and unique in their own rights and while we take a networked approach to our offer process, there isn’t a one-size fits all approach when it comes to securing talent.

Despite a looming economic slowdown and macroeconomic concerns, will we see the demand for live events and entertainment trend favorably this year? What should we expect from Hard Rock’s entertainment offering in 2023?

Despite economic signals in other business sectors that might suggest discretionary spending is starting to normalize, we at Hard Rock aren’t experiencing slowdowns in the ticketed event space, regardless of region, size of event or genre so we remain cautiously optimistic

Not only are we continuing to see high sales volumes, but we’re seeing more acceptance of higher price points than ever before. We see only positive momentum as we look at our shows that are already on sale over the next year.

At Hard Rock, we like to say we’re in the big event business. We want to provide our guests with incredible memories through those once-in-a-lifetime moments we mentioned before. Over the year, we’ll look to raise the high bar we’ve already set, while expanding into new markets and creating new fans of our contemporized Hard Rock brand.  

Rodrigo Capeans
by Rodrigo Capeans
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