As a former UNLV place-kicker, Daren Libonati knows the deal: If everything is perfect, you’ve simply done your job; if you fail, that job might not be there for you. The same concept applies to Libonati’s role in bringing headline sporting and entertainment events to Las Vegas in the past 25 years, an approach that’s gone straight and right down the middle every time.
Following a 10-year run as executive director of the Thomas & Mack Center, Sam Boyd Stadium and Cox Pavilion, Libonati, 45, resigned last August to become president and COO of Justice Entertainment Group, allowing him to not only continue producing events at the three UNLV facilities, but also to broaden his entertainment portfolio.
In helping to lure performers and events such as U2, Garth Brooks, the NBA All-Star Game, Vegoose and Professional Bull Riders to Las Vegas, Libonati makes sure clients and partners feel they got more than they paid for, or as he puts it, “more than a receipt.”
“My belief system is this: If I can understand your need, I’ll meet it, and then mine will be met,” he says.
Libonati began his career as a marketing intern at the Thomas & Mack before becoming the venue’s booking director. He later moved on to the MGM Grand Garden Arena and Primm’s Star of the Desert Arena before returning to his alma mater, where he helped launch UNLVtickets.com.
It has been a career rich with impressive booking coups, but Libonati says his proudest professional moment came when he helped stage a series of lucrative Grateful Dead concerts at Sam Boyd in the early 1990s. His newest baby is the USA Rugby Sevens Tournament, set for its second year at Sam Boyd on Feb. 12-13.
Libonati’s interest in music and sports carries over into his personal life: Along with spending time with his wife, Hillary, and their two children, he plays guitar and piano and competes in mini-triathlons.
He also has a playful side on the job. In an attempt to arrange a 1993 Greg Haugen-Julio Cesar Chavez boxing match at the Thomas & Mack, Libonati wrote a 22-line poem to boxing promoter Don King, including this couplet:
I ask you now, promoter extraordinaire
Don’t leave this deal up in the air
Alas, the fight would up in Mexico City. While at the Thomas & Mack and MGM, though, Libonati helped stage numerous high-profile boxing cards, including the second Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield fight in 1999. His passion for boxing has carried over to Justice Entertainment, where he continues to deliver knockout performances.