The MGM Grand Las Vegas Resort & Casino is home to the Grand Garden Arena, where the careers of Prows, Libonati and Jones overlapped. (Getty Images)

Mark Prows, Daren Libonati and Cynthia Jones are Vegas veterans

Mark Prows, who spent 26 years at MGM Resorts International and oversaw close to 40 venues worldwide, was laid off last week because of the COVID-19 crisis, which has shut down entertainment facilities around the globe.

Prows, most recently MGM’s senior vice president of entertainment operations, confirmed the move in a phone interview with VenuesNow. 

Daren Libonati, MGM’s vice president of festivals and outdoor spaces, confirmed he was also let go after spending 3 1/2 years expanding the company’s special events business. 

In addition, Cynthia Jones, who spent 25 years at MGM and was most recently vice president of corporate ticketing, told VenuesNow she is no longer with the company.

Scott Ghertner, a spokesman for MGM Resorts International, did not return a call for comment.

Mark Prows

Prows, 62, said MGM did not plan to hold any live events at its venues until the end of 2020. Still, he was surprised by MGM’s decision despite the unprecedented shutdown, which projects to $40 billion in losses across the board for Vegas casinos, according to published reports. On its own, MGM Resorts International came off a spectacular year in live entertainment in 2019, booking more than 10,000 shows at 37 properties, Prows said. 

“The bottom line is, I was planning toward retirement anyway, but didn’t plan on all my investments being devastated, so I’m meeting with my financial adviser and making a full assessment of where I sit,” he said. “It’s not like me to dance off in the sunset and sit and stare off the back of my boat. But I’ll go try that for a while and see if that makes sense, too.”

Prows joined MGM as director of event services in December 1993 and was named assistant vice president, and later vice president, of the Grand Garden Arena, a 17,000-seat facility. In 2010, he was promoted to vice president of entertainment. Six years later, Prows was named senior vice president of entertainment. As part of his duties, Prows played a key role in developing T-Mobile Arena, a joint venture between MGM and AEG that is home to the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. The $375 million building opened in April 2016.

“MGM was absolutely amazing to me,” he said. “They offered me early retirement last year while we were doing a restructuring. Then the president of the company (Jim Murren) asked me not to leave and I honored his request. We had a pretty amazing year, put up some pretty good numbers, and then this (coronavirus) came along. We have a lot of shareholders to answer to and there’s much bigger auspices to what we run than just entertainment. I understand it very well after all these years.”

Daren Libonati

Libonati ran MGM’s festivals group, which created the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. Day N Vegas and the iHeartRadio Music Festival, among other events. Libonati, a former kicker for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas football team, spent 19 years running and booking events at Thomas and Mack Center and Sam Boyd Stadium. He also helped open two arenas, including MGM Grand Garden, where he worked with Prows for three years.

“I was working all the way up until Friday and then I got the call,” Libonati said. “They said, ‘You know the environment, there’s nothing in the foreseeable future. We’re going to have to let you go. We’re very sorry and thank you for all you’ve done. We took a chance when we started this (division) and you fulfilled all those wishes.’”

Libonati has already formed his own company, Libonati Entertainment Group, which is not too much different than when he served as an independent promoter for about four years before MGM hired him in 2016. He hopes to fill the role of consultant for live events in Las Vegas. 

Over the past year, Libonati kept busy forming a new MGM tailgate village concept tied to Las Vegas Raiders games at new Allegiant Stadium, which is scheduled to open this summer. The 3.5 acre site, in front of the Luxor Hotel & Casino, sits about 1,500 feet from the $2 billion stadium, connected by a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 15. MGM Resorts International is working in conjunction with The Tailgate Guys, a company specializing in tailgating functions for NFL and college football teams, to sell hospitality packages for the Vegas project.

“Right now, all of our assets are sitting there on hold until the city comes alive again and we can see that fans are going to come to these (NFL) games and have an experience outside in this space we created,” Libonati said. “My gut tells me when that time comes, MGM will most likely pick up the phone … and we’ll be able to finish what we started. That’s my goal.”

The tailgate village would include general admission tickets priced at $30 to $35, plus a separate premium experience with 25 cabanas and eight portable suites, with high-end food and beverage managed and served by MGM properties.  The triple-decker suites would each accommodate 80 to 100 people. They’re the same portable suites produced by Seating Solutions for the iHeartRadio Music Festival, Libonati said.

In addition, two large video walls to watch the early NFL games would be part of the tailgate space. The sight lines along the Vegas Strip would provide a vivid backdrop for primetime broadcasts of Raiders games, Libonati said.

Depending on how the NFL season plays out post-COVID-19 and whether fans are allowed to attend the games, there’s tremendous potential for the Vegas tailgate, considering the Raiders’ home schedule. Besides AFC West opponents Denver, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders play host to Tampa Bay with new quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, as well as Buffalo, New Orleans, Miami and Indianapolis.

To kick off sales, MGM and The Tailgate Guys planned to showcase the concept for those eight teams during the 2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas before it was canceled due to the virus.

“You’ve got (other NFL) cities that understand the sexiness of Vegas and that was the excitement of building something nobody has seen,” Libonati said. “My philosophy is ‘you’ve got to believe what you can’t see,’ and that’s what we were doing for a year. We had a hard pause put on this thing two weeks ago and that’s what froze me.”

Jones, in speaking to her exit from MGM, says she remains bullish on the company and plans to remain in the entertainment business.

“I grew up there and those executives mentored me and I wish them well,” she said.

Jones spent most of her life growing up in Vegas and worked at Caesars Palace before taking over as director of ticketing for the MGM Grand Garden Arena in 1995.

“I’m definitely not out of it for my career,” she said. “It’s in my DNA, it’s what I do and love and am passionate about. I’m looking forward to the future.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was originally posted.