King of the Entertainment Jungle: Chris Baldizan

Senior vice president of entertainment for MGM Resorts International


Photo by Anthony Mair

ACHIEVEMENTS As a full-time event manager for the brand-new MGM Grand Garden Arena in 1993, Baldizan helped host 150 championship boxing matches and more than 60 concerts in the first year. After realizing a short-lived dream of training race horses in Kentucky, he returned to Vegas to join the Star of the Desert Arena at Primm Valley Resorts and, later, Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Now back at MGM since 1999, Baldizan is focused on bringing a new wave of entertainment to the Strip. In 2014, that meant the completion of the MGM Resorts Village across from Luxor, which last year hosted the iHeartRadio Music Festival, among other events. This year, it’s bringing Rock in Rio to North America for the first time.

PERFECT TIMING Organizers for Rock in Rio struck a six-year deal with MGM for the North American incarnation (it will also return to Vegas in 2017 and ’19). But it almost didn’t happen. The festival would require even more space than the new 25,000-capacity MGM Resorts Village. “That was the only property that we had,” Baldizan says. As luck would have it, MGM Resorts’ 48-acre lot that has long sat vacant at the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard became available when another deal fell through. The land is now being turned into the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds, which will accommodate up to 85,000. “If it weren’t for that, I don’t know that Rock in Rio would be coming [to North America], to be honest,” Baldizan says.

While Rock in Rio may have been the impetus for the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds, Baldizan has other hopes for the space. “We didn’t build that site just for one event,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll have things out there like soccer matches and motorsport events that can fit on that site.”

THE STAR ARC Because of MGM Resorts’ many entertainment venues, the company has the ability to build a relationship with artists as their popularity grows. Says Baldizan: “We put them at the House of Blues when they sell 500 tickets. Then we put them at the Beach at Mandalay Bay when they’re selling 3,000 or 4,000 tickets, then Mandalay Events Center when they’re selling 8,000, then the Grand Garden. Then we put them at the new [MGM/AEG arena] we’re building for 20,000. Then we put them at the festival site for 40,000.”

IF HE HAD IT HIS WAY So who would play Baldizan’s dream festival? “I’m a huge U2 fan. I love Prince. I love George Strait. That’s a good three-day festival headliner lineup. A little bit of diversity, too.” Alas, he’s quick to admit that it’s not about him. “You don’t book shows based on what you like,” he says. “It’s great if I like them, but I’m booking shows for people who are coming to our properties.”

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