Lessons in crowd control and audience growth from ACM Awards, Michael Jordan tournament

Steven Tyler and Carrie Underwood perform “Walk This Way” during the 46th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Sunday, April 3, 2011.
Photo: Steve Marcus

2011 ACM Awards Red Carpet and Backstage

2011 ACM Awards: Red Carpet

ACM show on Fremont - from YouTube.com

Sweeping the parade after a wild weekend, even by Vegas standards:

ACM Awards blossoming

The 46th Academy of Country Music Awards filled MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Events Center on Sunday night and cut loose with two heavily attended free shows Friday and Saturday nights at the Fremont Street Experience.

So the clear move is to further inflate the event.

The weekend’s various showcases marked the largest ACM event ever in Las Vegas. The Fan Jam simulcast was viewed as a success, if only because it sold out MGM Grand Garden Arena at 10,000 and just about filled the 6,700-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Most important (at least, in this region), the show was an effective promotional vehicle for MGM Resorts, and the entire Strip, in fact, for the footage of co-hosts Blake Shelton and Reba McEntire being driven from MGM Grand to Mandalay Bay and back by Brad Garrett.

Now being discussed is to organize a two-day, outdoor country festival drawing 30,000 to 40,000 country music fans to an outdoor venue and adding two more days to the showcase, a move that reminds of the National Finals Rodeo and its peripheral events (where to hold this show is the chief challenge). That festival would be in addition to the Fremont Street shows, which over the weekend were headlined by Sara Evans on Friday and Ronnie Dunn on Saturday. Nearly 50,000 fans, total, turned out the two evenings.

With the ACM Awards looking for a possible new home in Cowboys Stadium after 2012’s broadcast from the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, local officials are aware that to do nothing might mean the show moves out for good. In this case, a pat hand is a losing hand.

Michael Jordan

Jordan revisited

A different sort of crowd-related issue faced Shadow Creek Golf Course General Manager Mark Brenneman. The lush course had never been treated in such an unruly manner.

“We were a bit surprised at the professional celebrity autograph seekers. I didn’t expect them, and they came from all over the country,” Brenneman said Monday afternoon in looking back at the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational. The four-day event concluded Sunday with Jordan teaming with Toni Kukoc to fire an 9-under-par score of 135. That was well ahead of Saints QB Drew Brees and NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, who shot 4-under 140.

The presence of so many celebs in a self-contained environment over a four-day stretch drew a crush of professional memorabilia hawkers who scrambled across the lawn off the 18th green to track down Jordan and friends. Given that this was the first time in the course’s 22-year history that the public was at all allowed to walk the grounds, it was an alarming turn of events.

“We adjusted after Day 1 by putting more barricades up,” Brenneman said. “You want to have the celebrities approachable by kids and normal people, but not by these pros with posters, basketballs, shoes, hockey sticks, guitars, whatever.”

The solution was to disallow memorabilia from even making it onto the course. Hockey sticks, baseballs in glass cases, inflated basketballs and the like were turned back.

“We had people trying to come in with backpacks chock full of stuff,” Brenneman said. “They’d try to get these things signed and then sell it on eBay.” Brenneman gave credit to Aria security officials Steve Koenig and Caylen Butler for restoring some sense of decorum to the stately course.

Brenneman loosely estimates that about 2,000 people each day took in the events, a very rough assessment based on his gauging of the number of cars parked at the course. The merchandise and concession sales far exceeded expectations, and it’s Brenneman’s hope that next year’s event winds up somewhere on TV.

But without all the madness from Day 1.

“It was like big-game hunting,” he said, “except with celebrities as the game.”

*One former UNLV official is publicly backing Dave Rice as the new Runnin’ Rebel head coach.

“I will say again: HIRE DAVE RICE!! read a Facebook status update from Jim Gemma, who was UNLV’s sports information director when Rice was an assistant under Bill Bayno. Gemma is now the media relations director for the Las Vegas 51s.

*File this sighting under Banjos of Mass Destruction: Walking the lower level of the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday night was former Defense Secretary (and country music fan, for a night at least) Donald Rumsfeld. He walked the ACM Awards red carpet, too.

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