Executive View Q&A
Executive View Q&AJoseph R. Schillaci, president and CEO, Fremont Street Experience Harrah's Entertainment's purchase of Binion's Horseshoe must be good news for downtown, and the Fremont Street Experience. What is your take?
We're just extremely happy the Binion's issue was resolved as quickly as it was, and we're definitely looking forward to the property reopening. Of course, we see a number of benefits to Harrah's being involved downtown. Harrah's obviously recognizes the historical value of the Horseshoe brand and the World Series of Poker, and these are both very intricately tied to the rich history that we've had here on Fremont Street.
Downtown certainly has had its problems competing. What, in your view, is ailing the market? And can it be reversed?
I told the board of directors I didn't see any issues that I haven't seen before. Part of what I look at are its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, and I really think the opportunities outweigh any of the weaknesses, and I'm focusing on the strengths. We still have issues we need to address, especially as these relate to perceptions. My sense is we have more of a communications gap than a product gap. We need to do a better job of communicating to people that it's a great product and they need to come down and visit us.
But what of those perception issues, as you term them?
I think it's that people associate downtown Las Vegas as being old. We need to communicate that it's really more vintage than it is old. Another weakness that is probably more legitimate is the issue of transportation. But we're going to be on the second phase of the monorail, and that is going to be a tremendous boost. In the meantime, once the monorail opens, there will be a Fremont Street Experience express bus at the Sahara Avenue
terminal to bring passengers non-stop to Fremont Street. Another weakness has to do with some marketing inefficiencies. What I will bring is a more focused, integrated plan that will give us a bigger bang for the buck.
In what areas specifically?
We're going to reinvest $17 million in new technology for the canopy. This gives us a lot of flexibility with some new programming opportunities. The other thing that I'm doing is trying to look at the Fremont Street Experience in general in terms of the brand and brand repositioning. We're kind of at the refinement stage of that, of trying to understand how we want to more effectively go to market.
Are you talking about expanded advertising?
To begin with, my sense is that the product itself is very sound. It's fun and exciting. It's very unique. The attraction is clean, it's safe and secure. It's just that, as I said, we need to do a much better job of communicating that. We need to go after all media, and not just in the tourist markets but the Las Vegas locals market. In terms of special events, I see that not only continuing, but expanding. And I would like to have us come up with events every month that would be supported by promotional partners, corporate sponsors and that have appeal both to out-of-town visitors and locals. I see that as a very, very important component of our marketing strategy going forward.
And the FSE's role in making that happen?
I think the role of the Fremont Street Experience is to bring in critical mass, both quantitative and qualitative. Our job is to kind of bring in the gold ore, and it is the job of the member properties to pick out the nuggets. The fact is, we're still close to entertaining 17 million visitors a year here. In the context of most other attractions in this country, that would be phenomenal. We just have to find ways to optimize our appeal.
Speaking of other attractions, you were a top executive with Six Flags for a good part of your career. Have you found your non-gaming background to be valuable?
A lot of the things that go over in the theme park industry are conceptually the same here. It's all about trying to deliver attendance. Good quality service at a reasonable price and a good value proposition aren't all that much different in the gaming industry than in the theme park industry. A
little bit different target audience. When I was at Six Flags in Southern California we had to compete with Disney and Universal, both of which had more money and more resources, and in many ways a more compelling product. I see the Fremont Street Experience in a similar role, kind of like David going against Goliath over on the (Las Vegas) Strip.
How do you define your role?
It's one of leadership, of trying to articulate the vision so all the properties buy into it, and certainly getting our staff here focused on what their mission is. And, as I said, our role here is to maintain the fun, excitement, uniqueness and the safety, security and cleanliness of the facility.