Can Nelly save entertainment at Biloxi’s MGM Park?

Nelly performs on the Main Stage during the second day of the Gulfport Music Festival in 2012.
Nelly performs on the Main Stage during the second day of the Gulfport Music Festival in 2012. amccoy@sunherald.com

It’s been almost six years since East St. Louis Rapper Nelly performed on the Coast. The hip-hop artist, who has sold more than 21 million albums since he made his debut with “Country Grammar” in 2000, was a performer at the 2012 Gulfport Music Festival.

Nelly returns to the Coast on April 28 for a headlining-show at MGM Park, along with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Juvenile. Tickets start at $34 and are available at TicketFly.com.

Tim Bennett of Overtime Sports, the concert’s promoter, is hoping the rapper will do what has yet to be done — have a record-breaking, non-baseball event at the baseball park, at least in terms of attendance.

“If you look at what Nelly’s sold in terms or records and you add in Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony and Juvenile, who’s a popular New Orleans artist, this is the biggest concert we’ve had at MGM Park,” Bennett said. “And early ticket sales have been encouraging.”

Figures released by the City of Biloxi show past concerts at the ballpark did not even make the top 15 in attendance numbers. The Biloxi Shuckers are the stadium’s top draw. And the most attended non-Shuckers event was also baseball — the May 28, 2017: Conference USA Championship brought in 5,126 spectators.

No one has indicated what the break-even point is for concerts at MGM Park.

‘A different market’

In 2017, Nelly was the opening act on the Smooth Tour, which featured the headlining Florida Georgia Line and the Backstreet Boys that played in major league baseball parks across the country. About 40,000 people attended the shows at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Target Field in Minneapolis.

Nelly opened for Florida Georgia Line at Trustmark Park in Pearl in May 2014. More than 14,000 tickets were sold to the show.

But, as Bennett pointed out, the Coast is a different market.

“The market here is different than other parts of the country,” he said. “You have the casinos, and they bring in a lot of music, but it’s different trying to fill a baseball stadium with music fans — you have to have the right act, the right date, the right weather — this time we think we have the right act.”

Lessons from the past

The Nelly concert will be the third show promoted by Overtime Sports at MGM Park. The first was a Dr. John/Trombone Shorty concert that was a partnership with the city. The second featured rapper Flo Rida. Bennett said the show was “moderately successful at best.”

In the original planning of the stadium, it was presented that about 100 events would be held at the stadium annually, including about 20 non-baseball events. The city has not partnered with Overtime Sports since the 2015 Dr. John concert.

The Nelly concert is scheduled during the opening month of Shuckers baseball.

Biloxi public affairs officer Vincent Creel said the city is concerned about the concert being staged while the Shuckers are playing a series out of town.

“We actually shared some of the team’s concerns about the scheduling because of possible damage to the turf, but Overtime Sports has assured the city that necessary steps will be taken to protect the field,” Creel said.

Bennett said his crew and MGM groundskeepers will have four days to rest the field after the concert.

“Nelly is actually doing a tour of minor league stadiums, with several shows in the Southern League,” Bennett said. “We’re confident we’ll have everything back in place, because baseball is our money maker at MGM Park.”

A future partnership?

Bennett said he is partnering with Denny Baxter and Blue Cap Entertainment for the Nelly show.

“Denny owns a baseball team and we are trying to figure out how we can put more shows in our stadiums,” he said.

The last scheduled concert at MGM Park was the April 7, 2017, Spring Explosion. It was supposed to feature Lil Uzi Vert and rapper Kodack Black, who was in jail at the time. The show was booked and promoted by Splash Life Booking and its owner Ade Kemp. It was a flop both financially and technically with several of the artists not showing for the concert.

The show was not promoted by Overtime Sports.

“We learned a lot from the show,” Bennett said. “You can vet and vet and vet, but when someone writes you a check to pay the rental fee on the stadium, it’s hard to say no to that.”

Bennett said he’s also looking to partner with the Birmingham-based Red Mountain Entertainment for future concerts.

“Red Mountain books The Wharf and they are going to book the amphitheater in Brandon,” he said. “They do a great job and we would love to see if they could help us.”