Revolutionizing Entertainment: MSG Sphere’s Impact on Las Vegas & the Future of Entertainment
By: Cal Forde
October 24, 2023
Photo Credit: Associated Press
On September 29, 2023, doors to the MSG Sphere at The Venetian opened with the U2:UV Achtung Baby residency performing in front of a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 fans just a block east of the Las Vegas Strip. This past week, U2 agreed to extend their residency by adding 12 additional concerts to their already mind-boggling 25-concert residency extending through December, 2023.
The Sphere is owned and operated by Sphere Entertainment Company, a subsidiary of Madison Square Garden Entertainment, which owns teams and entertainment venues such as the NBA’s New York Knicks, the NHL’s New York Rangers, and arenas such as Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall.
The Sphere has forever changed the Las Vegas skyline. Standing at 366 feet tall and 516 feet wide with more than 700,000 feet of programmable screens – inside and out – the Sphere creates a four-dimensional virtual reality experience like no other venue on the planet. By using four-dimensional video, sound, vibrations, and even smell, the Sphere makes almost any scene or experience virtual.
So far, the Sphere and accompanying concerts have been a huge hit. According to The Street, only 4 of the remaining 17 concerts originally slated in U2’s blockbuster 25-concert residency remain available. The cheapest ticket available on Ticketmaster comes in at around $500, with most available tickets ranging from $1400 to $1500 dollars. LiveNation reports that the eminent classic rock band, U2, is guaranteed $4 million per show. Not only will the Sphere create revenue through multi-billion dollar concerts and events, but the enormous outer screen itself is an advertisement board the size of approximately four football fields combined, allowing it to attract audiences passing by on the Strip and also through its viral social media following. As The Washington Post explains, “The Sphere also shows: a cluster of jellyfish. An advertisement for an Ultimate Fighting Championship match. A jack-o-lantern. A green-and-purple cloudscape. Hundreds of bouncing basketballs. A fiery inferno. But mostly, Sphere is an ad for itself: either its U2 residency or Aronofsky’s film. It is, really, the most Vegas thing of all: a sign.”
Photo Credit: CNN
Because of the orb-shape of the Sphere, it is being used in newfound ways. On October 6, 2023, just a week after its unveiling, director Darren Aronofsky’s Postcard From Earth, a 50-minute, immersive short film, debuted in the high-tech global venue. Ironically, this part sci-fi, part nature documentary was produced with advanced 18K resolution cameras for display in the world’s largest and most technologically advanced spherical object that looks remarkably like a planet, especially when projecting images of the moon and Earth that can be seen by airline passengers thousands of feet above on flights to and from Las Vegas.
James Dolan, owner and CEO of MSG Entertainment and Sphere’s parent company, Sphere Entertainment Company, originally drew up the idea in 2015 as he was deciding what to do with over $1 billion in extra cash and credit from MSG Entertainment and other controlled companies. The Sphere became a personal project for Mr. Dolan when he remembered Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt,” his favorite childhood story, where children's dreams come to life when the walls of their nursery home transform into images of their imaginations. David Dibble, a technologist who works closely with Mr. Dolan, remembers Mr. Dolan exclaiming, “Let’s reinvent the live entertainment industry.”
Despite its recent but short success, many investors and fans of the project were not always as optimistic. Construction for the Sphere began in 2018 with initial costs expected to be $1.2 billion. Fast forward to August 2023 – $2.3 billion in costs, two extra years of construction, and more than $1 billion over budget. Nevertheless, the Sphere’s revenue reached $574 million before even opening. For the next fiscal year, which is the Sphere’s first full year of operation, revenue is expected to exceed $1.1 billion. The Sphere is expected to play a big role in Las Vegas’ transformed entertainment industry, that includes Formula 1’s first-ever Las Vegas Grand Prix and the possibility of Vegas becoming the new home of the Oakland A’s, yet another big-four American sport.