Surviving and Thriving – Some Are, Some Are not

Four Canadian Air Force Snowbirds maneuver past each other during the 2007 Reno Air Races at Reno Stead Airport.

Four Canadian Air Force Snowbirds maneuver past each other during the 2007 Reno Air Races at Reno Stead Airport.

When thinking about extinction, an obvious question arises: why do some things last longer than others. And just as obviously there is no simple answer, each case is different – and different not just in the specifics, but also in the generalities.  Take special events for example, one branch or variety of entertainment species; special events some times last hundreds or even thousands of years, like the horse race in Siena, Italy and others barely make through the end of “the first annual” celebration. When they are starting out, it is not always easy to see which will make it and which will not.

This week the air race start in Reno, it will be the 47th year for the National Championship Air Races, the Great Reno Balloon races just finished the 29th year, Hot August Nights the 25th and the granddaddy of all Reno special events the Reno Rodeo had its 90th event this year.  So what makes for longevity, maybe an easier thing to think about than what makes for extinction?  I have a few thoughts on the conditions necessary for success: The first is an appeal to something that is basic to human nature and not simply a fad; the second is an event that transcends generation, gender and class; third is a cost or price structure than allows all families as well as individuals to comfortable enjoy the spectacle; and last on this short list would be a stable social environment; major economic upheavals, wars or landscape changing natural events could create a discontinuity that may not be easy to overcome.  There are of course more reasons, but I think these are basic ones.

All of the major Reno events seem to me to be well positioned to last a long time; the weakest would be Hot August Nights that might be wholly dependent on one aging generation.  The balloon race officials thought this might have been a record year and that in the midst of a recession – but it is free – is great, no predictions yet from the air races, but it looks good, the rib cook-off in Sparks also set records in attendance, again just going is free; for certain if an event is going to survive over time pricing is a major issue as all major sports franchises are finding out.  When the economy was booming raising the prices every year was easy for sporting venues, it made sense, business sense; but in a recession those prices now are limiting – the size of the potential fan base shrinks drastically when the pricing is exploitative and the prices were set at bubble prices.  Try finding someone to rent a house today based on what you might have paid for a house in 2006 – good luck.

Asking the same question about a business produces some different reasons or conditions; take the Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.  Today the company announced it was going to close its hotel and the majority of the property in November.  The Plaza will continue to operate a casino – one would suspect as long as it can sustain itself through the cash-flow it generates. Some of the issues in special events are simply non-issues; casinos have been shown to be multi-generational and gambling certainly appeals to most human beings on the planet at almost a cellular level.  The Plaza has different problems; and in downtown Vegas it is hard to find a success model to analyze, so we end up looking a failures and trying to understand the causes.  It is a flawed system – determining the conditions necessary for success produces in my mind better analysis.

The Plaza is closing “to remodel”, only no one, including the general manager believes that; November will be the end of the fall season so the timing is perfect to get that last little bit of cash from the hotel rooms.  Like all downtown properties remodeling is an issue, most have been unable to keep up with the changes on Strip and by this point – some 15 years into the downward cycle most are in desperate need of paint, carpet, new mattresses, upgraded slot machines and tracking systems – the very basics; and there is no way for them to catch up with the “modern” amenities the Strip or regional casinos have.  And that is the real problem for the Plaza – there is too much competition for the tiny market share that is left for downtown Vegas.  The business has all gone somewhere else – first the tourists left for the more exciting and dynamic Strip and then the locals left for the more convenient and updated regional/neighborhood casinos like Boyd and Station properties. The Plaza and Liberace may have extinction in common, but the reasons are very different. Still,  they do really have something in common, in the 1950s both were hot properties


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