The End of Two Boardwalk Empires

It is being reported that HBO has decided to stop producing Boardwalk Empire after its fifth season.  The HBO series was based the book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson.  It is a story of politics, crime and corruption during Prohibition in Atlantic City.  Five seasons is not bad, not great, but not bad.  Although the lifecycles of television series are not something I have ever studied, it seems to me that five years is typical for a successful series.  Five years indicates the program garnered enough interest to make it past the first and second seasons, but not enough to last a decade like Friends or even into that magical sixth year of true success that Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw achieved.  I would imagine that television producers do study television lifecycles and can with reasonable accuracy predict how long a particular program will last.  That is a valuable skill. and other sources reported Thursday that the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” will end after its 5th season at the end of the year.  Boardwalk Empire, which premiered in 2010, is set in 1920s Atlantic City during Prohibition and chronicles a fictionalized version of city boss Nucky Johnson. Steven Lemongello, Press of Atlantic City, 1-10-14

Predicting the lifecycle of a casino, however, is not a skill that casino producers cultivate. It might be time to start to cultivate our ability to do just that – predict the lifespan of any given casino. The same day the article on Boardwalk Empire appeared in the Press of Atlantic City, another article appeared.  It too announced the end of another boardwalk empire; it announced the final days of the Atlantic Club.  Once the Golden Nugget and the most prosperous of the Boardwalk casinos, the Golden Nugget now renamed the Atlantic Club has had many ups and downs since Steve Wynn sold his Golden Nugget to Bally’s in 1987; for the last few years the downs have far exceeded the ups.  The property has run its course and come to the end of its life.  January 11th is its last day, the Atlantic Club like Boardwalk Empire is demonstrating that nothing is forever and everything has a lifecycle.

The Atlantic Club was sold at auction to two competitors who simply want it to go away.  The remaining properties in Atlantic City hope to divide up the customers and revenue. There is no one reason for the demise of the Atlantic Club, but the most obvious explanation is the competition from casinos in other states, primarily Pennsylvania.  Or to put in differently, the Atlantic Club suffered from the same phenomenon that led to the demise of Boardwalk Empire and indeed all television series.  Over time, people tire of one thing and move on to something new.  Every season has a new series or two trying to steal away the loyal viewers of the previous season’s favorites.  In the case of the casinos in Atlantic City, or anywhere else, that new something is another casino, not only newer, but also closer to the homes of the gamblers.  Television audiences and casino customers are fickle; they have to be constantly entertained and offered something to new to amuse them.  They quickly become bored and start to change channels or drive down the road to another casino.

A television series and a casino can be very much alike in that neither can expect to last forever.  When a television series ends, it just ends and the actors, writers, directors, advertisers and watchers move on to another program.  It is not so simple for casinos, the investors or the employees.  For them, it is not easy to simply transfer to another place, particularly in a declining market like Atlantic City.  There is no moral here, except possibly every individual and business needs an exit strategy.  It would be very useful for politicians, regulators, investors and developers to understand that everything has a lifecycle and nothing lasts forever.

Atlantic Club winding down: With days to go before Atlantic Club Casino Hotel shuts its doors for the last time, competing casinos are continuing attempts to lure customers to other Atlantic City properties. Saturday will mark the final night that Atlantic Club will accept hotel guests with check-out concluding at 11 a.m. Sunday. Gambling will continue throughout Sunday with betting cut off at midnight as 1,600 employees will be left without jobs. Jennifer Bogdan, Press of Atlantic City, 1-10-14

A long time ago, I worked with a very creative and innovative team of casino executives.  We used a metaphor of a flower to understand the lifecycle of special events and promotions; when a flower blooms, it is dying.  To us that meant when an event was in the full flower of success we needed to be planning – in the metaphor planting – the next new event.  The new event needed to be a new concept, not just a repacking of the old one.  It was a good metaphor and for years it kept us motivated and creative.  In the end, it failed because we did not anticipate the new casinos which would one day take our customers.  Nor did we imagine that California would one day have casinos.   The producers of Boardwalk Empire knew they had a limited license on life.  However, the owners of the Atlantic Club did not, nor did Governor Christie or the developers of Revel.  By 2007 the die was cast; The Boardwalk Casino Empire was fast losing its status as an empire and becoming a regional outpost when the television Boardwalk Empire was just being imagined.


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