“The first Shaq’s Fun House, [Shaq] called me the day before and he’s like, ‘You know I have two tigers, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah?’ And he’s like, ‘I’m gonna bring them. It’s the Fun House,’” Joe Silberzweig says through a grin, spinning stories about the Shaquille O’Neal–branded Super Bowl party.
It’s the Wednesday before the Super Bowl and Silberzweig is standing on the new stage that his upstart live-events company, Medium Rare, has installed at the Encore Beach Club at Wynn Las Vegas. Over the span of 36 hours—starting Friday night with Shaq’s Fun House at XS Nightclub (at the Wynn) and ending with Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Tailgate, the morning of the game—Silberzweig and his partner, Adam Richman (not the food guy), will host four massive Super Bowl weekend events, for Shaq, Fieri, Sports Illustrated, and Rob Gronkowski.
“We were just getting to know Shaquille at this point,” Silberzweig goes on, remembering their first coproduction, in 2018. “And I’m like, ‘Shaquille, I don’t think our insurance company is going to allow that. Can they come in cages?’ And he’s like, ‘I’m not gonna cage up my tigers!’ Needless to say, the tigers didn’t make it.”
Such is the world of Medium Rare, where Richman and Silberzweig created an events model perfectly built for the social media age: 50-50 partnerships with athletes and TV personalities, plus whatever Dave Portnoy is, wherein live events are tailored to the famous person’s image, doubling as sponsorship bonanzas.
Sure, they’re selling tickets, VIP tables, booze, and merch, but they’re also selling the opportunity to get ultraspecific promotional deals with larger-than-life personalities at a party created in their image. You want to be the official water bottle of Gronk Beach, the Gronkowski-fest that started in 2020? Richman tells me that will cost you $50,000. “But that same water company, if now they’re like, ‘We want Gronk chugging our water onstage, pouring it all over his head, and we want to get a social post from that?’” he says. “It’s like: Cool. Now it’s five hundred grand.”
In Richman’s and Silberzweig’s minds, the key to the model is the 50-50 partnership: They make the celebrities’ wildest whims a reality and handle the logistics, builds, partnerships, and legal. In exchange, they get a fully invested, highly marketable celebrity with whom to make any brand’s dreams come true, for a price. A King’s Hawaiian slider cook-off between Fieri and Eli Manning? For a hefty amount of bread, the bread company is getting just that, onstage in front of 15,000 fans the morning of the Super Bowl.
How, exactly, did Richman and Silberzweig convince the Wynn to rent them its nightclub and beach club on what promises to be the most lucrative weekend in Vegas history? Well, for a chunk of change, obviously—but also for a bit of that Medium Rare special sauce. “Gronk was on Fallon this week, and they were showing the last Gronk Beach at the Wynn [before the 2022 NFL draft in Vegas] where he dance-battled Travis Kelce,” Silberzweig says. “And then Gronk is talking about how Encore Beach Club is his favorite club in America.”
“If they just [hosted] a day party and didn’t have Gronk attached to it, who’s going on Jimmy Fallon to talk about it?” Richman asks. “But Gronk and Shaq? Everyone wants to talk to them.”
That’s the model: sponsorships first; then tickets, tables, booze, and merch. Richman tells me this Super Bowl weekend in Vegas is, well, “our Super Bowl.” They expect to gross somewhere between $15 million and $20 million from the four events: Shaq’s Fun House, last night; Gronk Beach, which is about to get started, as you read this; Sports Illustrated The Party, tonight; and Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Tailgate, an amped-up amuse-bouche to the Super Bowl, on Sunday. “At the end of it, you gotta take all the expenses and net that out,” Richman says. “And then go, ‘Great. There’s a couple million bucks left in this event. You get a million; we get a million.’”
In 2013, Richman and Silberzweig were recent college grads who loved EDM and wanted in on the business side of the rave life. Silberzweig, who had played football at Penn and who looks like a young Jay Leno, had founded a concert series in college and leveraged that into a job at SFX Entertainment, the dance-music events giant. Richman, an entrepreneurial party-thrower and -goer at Arizona who looks a bit like Brock Purdy, had founded an events production company in college and leveraged that into a job at SFX as well. The two met while working an electronic dance fest, TomorrowWorld, in Atlanta.
They each paid attention to the dos—and, more important, the don’ts—of throwing a music festival. They watched SFX go from a “company that was just forming, to a billion-dollar IPO, to bankrupt, in three years,” Silberzweig says. But during that wild wave, he had what would turn out to be his and Richman’s big break.
Silberzweig was working TomorrowWorld in 2013 when he says Shaq pulled his F150 up to the gate, and a starstruck security guard waved him through. The 7-foot walk-on raver was wandering backstage in the pyrotechnics zone, and Silberzweig ran over to make sure Shaq and his truck didn’t get blown up by fireworks.
Shaq started apologizing, saying he’d buy a ticket, but Silberzweig told him it wasn’t a problem—he’d gladly show him around. You just need to move your truck.
“He was like a kid in a candy shop and got to meet Steve Aoki and Skrillex and all these DJs,” Silberzweig remembers. “He had never been to a music festival … and just loved the energy of seeing 60,000 people having the time of their lives. He looked at me and he said, ‘I want to deejay this festival next year.’ I had no idea what he was talking about. But I said, ‘O.K., Shaq.’ I took his number.” Silberzweig’s lantern jaw splits into a grin. “We ended up booking him to perform at the festival in 2014.”
Silberzweig and Richman started managing Shaq’s DJ career while keeping their day jobs. The power of celebrity being what it is, DJ Diesel was an instant hit. “That, in its own right, is an incredible story: how Shaq went from four-time NBA champion to one of the highest-grossing DJs in America,” Silberzweig says.
The young party-throwers were starting to see a proof-of-concept: People will pay to be in the orbit of a beloved celebrity. They sell tickets and generate headlines. Better yet: Sell a specially designed brand activation—pardon the adspeak—that makes big companies salivate. The two started to cook up what would eventually become Medium Rare. Their dream in those days was to get big enough to quit their jobs and do celebrity-powered festivals full time. These days, they’re talking regularly to billionaires about securing tables (they say Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have each attended their Super Bowl parties) and about investing in their six-year-old company.
What have they learned in their first half-decade of Medium Rare? Gronk, Shaq, Portnoy, Kelce, and Fieri superfans want to be near their idols. But so do A-listers, who are susceptible, too, to the celebrity pull. A sampling of the confirmed guests for each party this week: Venus Williams, Nick Cannon, and Michael Irvin were expected at Shaq’s Fun House; CeeDee Lamb, David Dobrik, and Cam’ron at Gronk Beach; Jack Harlow, Joe Montana, and Megan Fox at Sports Illustrated The Party; and Portnoy, Gordon Ramsay, and Baker Mayfield at Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Tailgate.
The very first Shaq’s Fun House—the one without the tigers—was at Miami Music Week in 2018. The first Gronk Beach was two years later, before Super Bowl LIV, also in Miami. Gronk retells the origin story, which is exactly what you’d expect. “I went to [the first] Shaq’s Fun House,” he says. “I’d never met Shaq before, so I wanted to give a good impression. And then what happened? I was dancing onstage. My shirt was off. I was doing crazy moves. I jumped on Shaq’s shoulders. It was one of the best parties I’ve ever attended.” The next year, when Gronk was looking to throw a Super Bowl party of his own, after retiring, he reconnected with the Medium Rare guys.
Now, four years into the Gronk Beach era, the future Hall of Famer views Richman and Silberzweig as close friends. During setup this year, Richman FaceTimed Gronk from the stage—which is twice as big as last year, per Gronk’s request—to show him how much more room he’ll have to dance around. Later, Richman reported that Gronk had been hitting him up all day to come play blackjack.
“Gronk keeps texting us to hang out and gamble. And it’s hard to explain what we have going on during a weekend like this. We have our team of 12 full-time employees. We have over 100 independent contractors. Starting Friday, that’s when the additional staff of several hundred starts: ticket takers, ticket scanners, bartenders …” Silberzweig says. “Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather do than play blackjack right now with Gronk, but it’s one the biggest weekends of our life.”
After meetings with the department heads of Shaq’s Fun House and Sports Illustrated The Party—which will be held at the same location, on back-to-back nights, at XS—and then a meeting at the Encore Beach Club next door with the Gronk Beach team, Richman and Silberzweig take an Uber to a huge parking lot located between The Linq’s High Roller Observation Wheel and the Sphere. Fieri, the Medium Rare guys say, was able to leverage a relationship with Caesars Palace to get access to the lot during Super Bowl week. By Wednesday, the signage was just starting to arrive, and the turf had been laid for a VIP section, which still needed to be built. Five classic cars were soon to be delivered.
Fieri’s tailgate is the most extreme example of Medium Rare’s model. They expect between 15,000 and 20,000 guests; there will be lots of free food and giveaways; Diplo and Dustin Lynch will headline—and there’s no cost to attend. So, how do Richman and Silberzweig expect to make a profit on a gratis event at this scale?
They get a 20% cut of the food and alcohol sales, Richman explains. But, obviously, it’s the sponsorships that make the margins work—the many, many cartoon-Fieri signs throughout the lot explaining, for example, that Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Tailgate will be “Better With Pepsi” this year. “They’re the biggest sponsor,” says Silberzweig. “It’s a seven-figure deal.”
The soda giant, having moved off sponsoring the Super Bowl halftime show two years ago, is spending a fraction of that here to make sure Fieri’s tailgate has Pepsi pairings at every booth. And, in case you were worried that we wouldn’t hear any more about activations, Fear not! “Pepsi has a huge activation. They have a Pepsi mainstage as well. And they’re bringing the biggest TikTok influencer in the world,” Silberzweig says. “So, all sorts of fun stuff going on throughout the event.”
It’s Wednesday afternoon and after two days of rain the skies have finally cleared, but it’s still freezing in Vegas. And it’s clear that everyone on the Medium Rare staff is a bit nervous about how that will affect the pool party and the tailgate. As they shuttle from meeting to meeting, Richman and Silberzweig do their best to exude positivity to their team.
That evening, as they sit in the lobby outside the elevator to the exclusive Wynn tower suites, a smattering of A-listers start to trickle in. J.J. Watt pulls up in a convertible and walks by. A few minutes later, Gronk’s oldest brother, Gordie, stops to chat. He talks through some last-minute details for the event; tells the Medium Rare guys that the Wynn has comped his room, so they can cancel what they’d booked him; and complains about a billionaire who’s asking for a free table for eight guests at Gronk Beach. Richman tells him: Even Russell Wilson and Ciara aren’t getting that many comps. Silberzweig turns, shakes his head, and says, “Billionaires never want to pay for anything.”
To borrow a framing from Richman—who leans into sports metaphors much more often than his partner—it’s midweek and the Medium Rare guys are in the fourth quarter preparation-wise. But despite the fact that most of the signage and booths are still sitting in the Wynn garage, they feel confident. They say they’ve sold out most of the tickets and VIP tables for their parties. Richman, at one point, shows off a section inside XS that he says is selling at outrageous prices for Sports Illustrated The Party.
What’s outrageous? “Like 200, 300 grand,” he says. “We had a group of six spend $100,000 yesterday. Six people! That’s more expensive than game tickets. Like, you could sit club level, 50-yard line for cheaper.”
In many ways, it’s fitting that Medium Rare has become the marquee party-thrower for this Vegas Super Bowl weekend. Richman and Silberzweig have managed to perfectly pair this moment and this city’s twin obsessions: access and advertising. Social media has made us feel closer than ever to our idols, and these events let you be close enough to touch that person you swear you know through your screen. To be at a party they dreamed up, with a chance to snap a picture or share a drink with them—it’s something like a relationship, isn’t it? And if they say it tastes better with Pepsi, who are you to argue?
Late Wednesday evening, outside the Wynn and The Palazzo, a giant digital billboard flips from an advertisement for Jesus to one for Crown Royal. Look around: No one else is watching; they’re all turned the other way, some with phones out, filming the futuristic ads flashing by on the Sphere. It’s four days until kickoff, and then a couple of more hours until the Super Bowl Halftime Show Presented by Apple Music (with a reported price tag of $50 million per year). All the A-listers will be here in this neon-lit desert. The biggest weekend of Richman and Silberzweig’s life is about to begin.