UNCASVILLE, CT (CelebrityAccess) — Tom Cantone, Worldwide President of Sports & Entertainment at casino giant Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, has been named CelebrityAccess’ Innovator of the Year for 2020.
While much of America’s live entertainment industry was reeling this year due to the shutdown imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, Cantone orchestrated the transition of the 10,000-capacity Mohegan Sun Arena into a dedicated broadcast center for Showtime Boxing and Bellator MMA.
“Back in March when we and the entire planet closed, I sat in my office with total darkness all around me at Mohegan Sun thinking of a way to bring my team back who were all on furlough. That’s how this whole idea started. The result of making one important phone call to our friends at Viacom to turn our arena into a Bubble Broadcast Center with no fans but which could still produce live content of their top two sports brands – Showtime Boxing and Bellator MMA,” Cantone said.
“After many operational, legal and health related medical hurdles, and with no existing protocol playbook, we created one. Credit to Mohegan Sun management and our health department for establishing pandemic guidelines that became the protocol model for the both the state and the wider industry,” he added.
“We combined that with Viacom’s COVID-19 Task Force and after months of planning the first Bubble Broadcast was on July 24 “Live From Mohegan Sun Arena” seen across the country. The television coverage we received with live opening footage of our property and continuous exposure during hours of the broadcasts, to over 12 million people around the world, was a marketing bonus for our brand,” Cantone continued.
As part of the bubble protocols, Mohegan Sun maintained its own medical staff and facilities to treat and isolate any competitor or crew who may become ill during an event.
The partnership included a record-breaking event that featured 5 World Championship title fights, which were broadcast via pay-per-view to international audiences.
Since many Americans were hunkered down at home due to the pandemic, the sports events saw ratings that reached double digits on a variety of media platforms, including CBS Sports, ESPN, Paramount Network, Showtime Network, YouTube, Streaming, Bellator App, Dazn, TV Spots 5 UK, Russian & Latin America media markets, and streaming services which increased by viewers by 550%.
“We found a way to generate a new revenue stream, fill hotel rooms and bring back a work force in a time of mass layoffs and closings. This will go down as one of the most successful game plans to beat a pandemic in casino history. Since the residency started, these weekly broadcasts caught the attention of the sports world, including the NCAA who saw our innovation to be a perfect fit for college basketball tournaments,” Cantone noted.
The success of MGE’s Broadcast Bubble also attracted the attention of the NCAA and MGE’s Chief Marketing Officer David Martinelli helped to broker a deal to bring a month long college basketball tournament to the arena.
ESPN, Showtime, Bellator, Basketball Hall of Fame, and team coaches and players have all praised Mohegan Sun’s innovation and tireless team member effort for a successful experience as tournaments such as the Women’s Tip-Off Challenge, The Empire Classic, and the Legend Classic took place in Mohegan Sun Arena. To date over 600 professional and college athletes have competed in games staged in the Bubble.
The plan proved to be a success. Despite the grim year for the live events industry, industry gross/attendance figures once again ranked Mohegan Sun Arena as one of the leading venues in the world for its size in 2020, coming in at #2 in North American and #3 worldwide.
The Mohegan Sun Arena punched above its weight class this year as well and finished in the top 15 venues of all sizes in the U.S. for industry gross/attendance, and top ranked in the 25 in the world.
“When you are faced with adversity and in this case on a historic global scale, it also creates opportunities and thanks to relationships that matter, and a lot of hard work from so many who refused to let a virus kill our spirit, we were able to think differently, adapt to a new world and show how to stay relevant even during a pandemic”. It’s not perfect but we didn’t sit this one out, we stayed in the game and won, and more importantly, I got my team back” said Cantone. “I have a saying in life – There’s Always A Way.”
“Comparable to any sports dynasty, Mohegan Sun has now built an elite Sports & Entertainment program winning more national awards as the most awarded casino venue in America ranking it consistently among the top venues in the world,” added Marc Gentilella, President and Editor-in-Chief of CelebrityAccess.