Jerry Nadal spent 21 years helping to grow Cirque du Soleil into a global spectacle after its humble beginnings as a street troupe. Now, he’s been tapped to help Enchant Christmas expand from a Vancouver, B.C., backyard light show into a nine-city (and growing) stadium spectacular.
Nadal, formerly head of business for Cirque, was named Chief Operating Officer of Enchant Christmas May 10 and he’s already immersed in all things Christmas.
“I do Christmas for a living now,” he says, laughing.
Nadal has hit the ground running, and even though Enchant Christmas doesn’t begin until late November, all the pieces going into it – hiring trucks, construction crews, technical workers and booking vendors as well as putting the finishing touches on two additional cities to be announced – are all well underway.
“To have a legendary entertainment executive like Jerry joining our team ensures our future success and the tremendous growth trajectory we are on,” Enchant Christmas founder and CEO Kevin Johnston says of Nadal. “To see a lighting business that began in my tiny garage in Canada 10 years ago grow to a one-of-a-kind event millions of people look forward to attending each year is so amazing.”
Enchant Christmas isn’t your typical holiday light show. There’s a lot of production and preparation that goes into presenting the extravaganza that includes art, interactive storytelling, ice skating rinks, shopping, dining, VIP experiences and 15 acres of cutting edge light and video displays. It’s so large it takes place in mostly baseball stadiums, expected to move more than 2.5 million tickets this year for the event that started with the humblest of beginnings in 2016 and, like almost everything else, lost 2020 to COVID.
“Kevin Johnston, who’s the founder and owner, has spent his whole life hanging Christmas lights and then building bigger displays,” Nadal says. “Somebody that he knew had a connection in China to a factory that could build bigger displays. So we expanded from Vancouver to the U.S., and did two years at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, the Mariners’ stadium. Then we were in the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium, followed by Dallas Fair Park and the Tampa Rays’ stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.”
This year, Enchant Christmas takes place again in those markets, plus San Jose, Calif.; Nashville, Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz., with two additional cities to be announced.
The advantage of utilizing baseball stadiums is that Enchant Christmas can begin preparing those sites as soon as the season ends. It’s able to utilize the buildings’ concession areas, restrooms and merchandise stores as part of the experience. And it gives those largely idle buildings good business in the off-season.
“They finish in October generally, and we store loadings in mid- to late October, ideally, and prep the fields,” Nadal explains. “It’s a downtime for most of the stadiums and so allows us to have all that infrastructure built in including restrooms and kitchen facilities. And then we bring other vendors in to supplement what those ballparks have, including their concourses. It’s a perfect use of the space.”
And Enchant Christmas is spread across a lot of space – 10 to 15 acres is necessary for crews to construct everything from lighting grids to an on-field ice skating rink – and existing parking lots enable Enchant Christmas to move up to 15,000 people per day in and out. With timed ticket entry, they are able to accommodate up to 2,000 people through the event per hour.
It’s not all just for the kids, either, though there are photo booths with Santa and Mrs. Claus. The installation includes a new feature: a sub-zero temperature Ice Lounge with adult beverage options for Mom and Dad.
After trying out a prototype Ice Lounge in Dallas last year, Enchant Christmas is rolling out a vodka bar across its nine cities in 2022. According to Nadal, each will feature three bars carved from ice, each featuring a different vodka cocktail, all in a 14-degree controlled climate. And there will be music.
“There’s that adult component, of course, with the 21-plus area, and there’s Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus with storytime for the kids,” Nadal says. “We also have three stages in each of our venues – a larger main stage and two smaller, satellite stages. There’s a mix of community and the professional entertainment.”
In addition to the Ice Lounge and three music stages, Enchant Christmas features a European-styled holiday marketplace showcasing artists from around the world, international holiday foods and the main event – more than 4 million sparking, multicolored lights and sculptures that highlight the interactive, story-themed maze.
That’s a lot of infrastructure for a single event, let alone one that takes place simultaneously in nine cities.
“This year, we have really increased our warehouse capacity with the warehouses on the West Coast and the East Coast and in Texas,” Nadal says. “We have our warehouse staff in place and we are putting in a new accounting system this year along with an inventory management system. We’ve had just exponential growth across the board, putting in all the process and procedures necessary to be able to do nine different venues. It’s going to be training, staffing, loading and running. It’s finding the vendors, those unique vendors in each market that we’ll have, and teams on the ground that are doing that.”
In addition to contracting food and merchandise vendors, Enchant Christmas has hired a corporate chef who is setting menus and sourcing products to ensure consistency across the board. It’s also producing a lot of its own Christmas merchandise for gifting.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to this, but we’ve got a great team that’s assembled doing that. And I think by the end of June, we’ll be about 150 full-time employees that are spread out between Vancouver and the East Coast,” Nadal says. “But then we will have probably close to 1,100 to 1,200 seasonal employees once we get into each market to help around the facilities, whether it’s technicians or ticket takers or people who work the merchandise stand, security, everything you need to run a big event.”
And as the world emerges from the COVID pandemic, “moving parts” also includes getting those millions of lights and technical equipment across the Pacific from China. Just as with typical concert and festival production, the supply chain comes into play.
“Last year, we decided we would actually go ahead with events in 2021 and that trigger was pulled in June, I believe. So it was kind of a time crunch doing that,” Nadal says. “But we made orders. We did have some things that were stuck on ships in containers.
“Knowing where we wanted to go this year we put in orders on everything that we need from China, with everything in the hopper by February. There is stuff that is in containers and on the ocean as we speak, but we know that we’ll have everything that we need this year for what we need to do. So far, we have not run into supply chain issues for what our needs are.”
Nadal is based in Las Vegas and, naturally, is especially looking forward to what Enchant Christmas can become in his hometown. It was one of the earliest cities on the Enchant map, taking place at Las Vegas Ballpark located in the suburb of Summerlin, and home of the Pacific Coast League’s Aviators.
Considering the possibilities, Nadal says, “It kind of took me back to where it was when I started in Cirque du Soleil. I think more shows and events were out last year and I can just look around at how the entertainment landscape has changed in Vegas. Having done Millennial and Gen Z studies of people wanting to consume entertainment, we know they have no problem sitting down to see a show [and Enchant Christmas is more interactive and mobile]. I think we will be able to really become a big presence in Las Vegas.”
Nadal and his team at Enchant Christmas still faces challenges, similar to the live music side of the industry, with the uncertain economic future that already includes inflation and fears of a recession on top of lingering fan hesitation about mingling with large crowds thanks to the pandemic.
“We always said if there’s anything that’s kind of recession-proof it was entertainment. I’m not sure that [big audiences are] ready, in terms of pandemic proofing that. But they are looking for things to do. And you look at all that was just here in Vegas – Electric Daisy Carnival had its biggest turnout with about a half-million people here at the Las Vegas Speedway. People like to be together. I think people like to be communal.”
He notes that his former company, Cirque du Soleil, has restarted its shows in Las Vegas post-shutdown, but seems more than content to again be part of a team that is in the early, heady days of what he believes will be explosive growth.
“This is a big expansion year for us, going from four sites to nine events this year,” Nadal says of the growth he’s now overseeing. “So we are now building up the team to be able to accommodate that and the resources where we’re having things built and putting it all together. We’re on the cusp of really becoming really big. The expansion plans every year after this are quite ambitious as well – four to five new cities every year. So it’s an exciting time to be here.”