Risk Management

When to Disregard Data and Go With Your Gut

The opening party for MPI’s World Education Congress in Atlantic City was set to take place on the beach. Thanks to fluctuating weather forecasts, Caesars Entertainment's Michael Massari learned a lot about backup plans.

ballys_dayIt’s a familiar worry for anyone planning an outdoor event: Will it rain? And if it does, what’s the backup plan — and how and when do you default to it?

For Michael Massari, senior vice president of meetings and events at Caesars Entertainment, creating a backup plan became increasingly tricky in the days leading up to MPI’s World Education Congress in Atlantic City on June 11–14. Scoring WEC 2016 was a coup of sorts for the city, which is in the midst of reinventing itself, in part as a meetings destination. While the conference itself would take place at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center (which Caesars recently completed), Saturday night’s opening party was scheduled for Bally’s Beach Bar. And because one of Atlantic City’s strongest assets is its beach, rain could be a major killjoy.

“This darned backup plan for the beach party was up there in terms of stressful situations in life,” Massari said. “What I don’t think we fully realized was how far out you had to make individual decisions about backup plans.”

Caesars’ first contingency plan was to put up huge tents next to Bally’s Beach Bar. However, two weeks out, they found out that shipping, rental, and labor would cost $350,000 — and since there was no rain in the forecast, Massari put the kibosh on the idea. 

Next, Massari and his team looked into Boardwalk Hall, the historic event landmark steps from the beach. “It’s a phenomenal place — high ceilings, classic architecture, great history,” Massari said. But with a week to go until the party and still no rain in the forecast, Massari made the decision not to put down the $150,000 deposit. “Then Boardwalk Hall as a backup was gone.” 

A few days out, the forecast began to change: Thunderstorms were predicted across the East Coast on Saturday night. “One [forecast] on weather.com specifically said, if you are attending an outdoor event, be careful, as it is likely there will be lightning strikes from Pittsburgh to the Jersey Shore,” Massari laughed.

And so Caesars began working on backup plan number three: Building out party infrastructure inside the Bally’s Wild Wild West Casino — “drapes, chairs, tables, whatever we could do,” Massari said. By noon on Saturday, with a 51 percent chance of rain, Massari was juggling four different weather apps, and his staff even checked in with fisherman to extrapolate the true probability of rain. By 2 p.m., the local restaurants due to serve food at the event needed to set up — and Massari had to decide: inside or outside?

“[My decision] had three parts, and one was gut. And while we call it our gut, really it’s our brain’s intuition, and we should make sure it’s part of the decision-making process,” Massari said.“[Part] two is data. And third, you need to understand what you are trying to achieve. For us, it was so critical for people to see what Atlantic City can be, and the beach and the ocean is such a big part of that. We were probably willing to be a little riskier than most.”

Outside it would be.

While thunderstorms buffeted northern New Jersey that Saturday, none ended up straying as far south as Atlantic City. As the party got underway, it was a breezy, clear, 75-degree evening — basically, picture-perfect weather for a beach party with mojitos and margaritas, ceviche and sliders, and attendees kicking off their shoes in the sand. “It was a great sense of relief, a great sense of joy,” Massari said. “It was a beautiful evening.”


Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is associate editor of Convene.