Being in the know about Snooki or JWOWW is a must for every nightclub owner these days. In fact, this January “Jersey Shore” cast members nearly caused a riot at Montclair, N.J., nightclub 501 Lounge when 2,000 guests crammed into the 800-capacity club to see the tanned pseudo-celebs. Booking reality show stars like those from the “Jersey Shore” cast is a trend that continues to grow, proving to be a lucrative money-making endeavor not only for the stars but also for nightclub promoters, booking agents and owners.
The rise of the reality star has opened the floodgates on less-expensive celeb appearances for nightclub operators looking to drive the crowds into their clubs. Mike Esterman, CEO of celebrity booking agency Esterman Entertainment, has more than 250 celebrities on his roster ready to be booked and flown to any nightclub looking to bring in some extra money by offering a chance for partiers to rub shoulders with the famous. With someone like Snooki from “Jersey Shore” garnering $15,000 and contestants from VH1’s reality dating shows “Rock of Love” or “For the Love of Ray J” receiving anywhere from $800 to $2,000 per club appearance, it seems the time is right for cashing in on the instant fame of those starring in reality TV shows.
Mike Esterman and "Jersey Shore" star Snooki.
Affordability is drives the sudden appeal of these stars to club operators, says Esterman. “There’s less travel, less riders, less equipment,” when compared to bringing in a musician, he says. “It’s derived by the popularity of the shows and the press that fuels the notoriety.”
Gregg Fornario, president and owner of The Dizzy Bulldog in Hockessin, Del., says the reward outweighs the risk when welcoming reality show celebrities to his venue. Though the days and hours leading up to an event can be worrisome for owners — fearing the extra money put into marketing will see dismal returns or, even worse, that the celebrity won’t show up — Fornario says his anxiety has yet to play out, especially when he’s witnessed lines outside the door and around the corner of his 500-capacity club waiting to see Ronnie and Sammi from “Jersey Shore.” Quite simply, reality stars are the “it” celebs at the moment. “Right now reality shows are the bigger deal. They’re in, they’re getting more ratings,” Fornario states.
That doesn’t mean other celebrities are thrown by the wayside — it’s just that ones known for their scandals, sex lives and previously famed careers can sometimes draw crowds for a lower price than their current A-list counterparts. Adult film legend Ron Jeremy is one of Esterman’s top bookings, and he’ll host a bikini bull-riding competition at Dizzy Bulldog in May. Additionally, Fornario says Vanilla Ice is one of the biggest names to hit his club (both Vanilla Ice and Jeremy, however, are also reality world stars, appearing on VH1’s “Surreal Life”). RuPaul, Cyndi Lauper and Janice Dickinson have parlayed their careers into reality TV appearances (respectively: “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Celebrity Apprentice” and “America’s Next Top Model,” among others), and now they’ve moved on to club fame at The Manor Complex just outside Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Marketing Director Greg Santis says these stars add prestige to a venue. “It keeps the night fresh and alive, and you don’t know what they’re going to do as the night progresses.” Whether it’s Britney’s ex and “Celebrity Fit Club” runner-up Kevin Federline dancing or entertainment mogul and “Making the Band” star P.Diddy free-styling, this element of surprise keeps club-goers happy and spending more money.
Santis books celebrities on his busy nights because he can charge more and still fill his 2,000-capacity ultra-lounge, whereas Fornario tends to do his booking on less crowded nights. Extra marketing tactics owners employ when bringing in reality stars, like taking out a full-page ad in the local paper, hiring promoters, being on local television shows and using Facebook and text blasts, draw guests to these clubs on big nights as well as off nights.
And yet Esterman, Fornario and Santis all caution nightclub owners about the pitfalls of booking celebrities. Esterman says nightclub owners should be wary of talent agents and prices that are too good to be true. “Talent buyers must deal with a valid agent source and not get burned or ripped off because, just like so many reality shows that come up and around, wannabe agents have popped up with no business or no licensing or rules and regulations. They are what we call fly-by-night agents who claim they represent everyone and take club and talent buyers deposits and simply disappear.”
A club that advertises a celebrity who never shows up not only loses money but also tarnishes its reputation. Santis has been deceived before, losing a $2,500 deposit and disappointing patrons. To prevent this from happening again, he checks for references and works closely with three talent bookers, like Esterman, who he knows have solid reputations. “I try to stay consistent now with a few bookers; I know what they’re going to deliver,” he says.
Fornario maintains successful business relationships by writing contracts, wiring deposits and only paying the celebrity once he or she gets to the club. Having a paper trail becomes important if there is ever a lawsuit, Fornario says, and though he comes into contact with agents who claim a “handshake is good enough” as a contract, he knows better than to take their word as gold.
Although reality show fame is fleeting for some, nightclub owners and promoters see new opportunities to drive patrons to their clubs to see the star or contestant of the moment. “It makes your bar really exciting, and people who haven’t been to your bar will travel 30 or 40 miles to come to your bar, and then they come back on the norm when you just have a normal DJ on a regular night,” Fornario explains.
And for nightclub owners, that’s good news. After all, Fornario says, “It puts you on the map.”