Topped off and ready for more than a million LED panels to be attached to its exterior, the MSG Sphere at the Venetian just east of the Las Vegas Strip has rounded into its landmark form.
What Madison Square Garden Entertainment is calling the world's largest spherical structure is 516 feet wide and 366 feet tall and is scheduled to open in the second half of 2023.
The imposing theater, reportedly costing almost $1.9 billion, will host a variety of custom-made live and/or pretaped attractions, musical residencies, corporate events and e-sports. While it could conceivably host boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts events, its stage cannot accommodate such sports as basketball or hockey.
• Related: MSG Sphere is rising near the Vegas Strip
Connected via an indoor pedestrian bridge to the Venetian Expo, the MSG Sphere has 23 VIP suites and will seat 18,500 (20,000 with standing room) on seven levels. Its curved interior display plane will be 160,000 square feet, larger than three football fields, and boast a resolution 82 times better than today's best HD TVs.
"The display wraps from behind the stage over the top of the seating sections and goes all the way back behind the audience," said Nick Tomasino, senior vice president of construction, on a recent hard-hat media tour of the site.
It will also have beam-forming audio by German electronics firm Holoplot that comprises 164,000 speakers delivering consistent audio to every guest -- something never before attempted at this scale, Tomasino said. Other advanced 4-D technologies (such as scents and wind) will create a fully immersive experience.
The exosphere, its 580,000-square-foot, fully programmable outer shell, will be formed in part by 70-foot-by-60-foot, parallelogram-shaped LED panels. The addition of the LED will start in mid-July and take 10 to 12 months to complete.
The MSG Sphere has 23 VIP suites and will seat 18,500 on seven levels. Its curved interior display plane will be 160,000 square feet and boast a resolution 82 times better than today's best HDTVs. Photo Credit: MSG Entertainment
About 1.4 million screens will create a digital canvas, on which creators can display elaborate visuals for artists, brands and special events. MSG is one of the partners for next year's Formula 1 auto race in Las Vegas, whose course will actually take drivers around the Sphere's exterior before hitting the Strip's straightway.
MSG Entertainment, led by executive chairman and CEO Jim Dolan, opened a replica of the Sphere in May in Burbank, Calif., that is about a quarter of the size of the one that is rising in Vegas. The Burbank structure will be used to develop programming.
Following the media tour in Las Vegas, I had a chance to interview MSG Sphere president Lucas Watson, who joined the project in March.
Q: Can you explain where this fits into the Las Vegas tourism landscape?
A: Las Vegas still is not all the way back to pre-Covid levels. I certainly hope that the opening of this will be an anchor or an attraction worth traveling to Las Vegas for. So I hope the storyline will be that people are flocking to Vegas in greater numbers because the Sphere is attracting new audiences.
Q: What's the ideal programming mix?
A: We're going to have a mixture of what we call immersive experiences or attractions, and that will be the core of our business model. Those will be creators that have custom-made experiences for the Sphere that take advantage of the technology. And then we'll supplement that with what we call musical residencies and marquee attractions and corporate events.
Q: What about noncustomized content, like a national headlining act used to a traditional stadium or arena?
A: We think of them as musical residencies. If you're going to take the time to develop for the Sphere, you'll come to stay awhile. You're going to make an experience that takes advantage of the technology, and then you might hang out for a little while and play that for a lot of people so they can experience it. So we might have fewer total artists, but we'll have a more unique experience that will be "Oh, wow! Did you see XYZ artists at the Sphere?" We won't need a ton of them to fill the programming. What we want are those who are truly inspired to do their best work, and there are certainly plenty of those.
Q: Why did you sign on to this project earlier this year?
A: I was inspired by Jim's [Dolan] vision. I was inspired by the audacity of this project. I've made a good career of disrupting existing categories with new technology, new brands, and I was just blown away by the potential of the Sphere.
Q: How will the exterior look for holidays?
A: We have some fun ones in the studio in Burbank. We have the entire exosphere done as a snow globe, which can be done for Christmas, [and] a pumpkin for Halloween. Those are obvious applications. But we are experimenting with all forms of how to maximize the space and take advantage of its uniqueness -- the ability to unveil or reveal what's going on inside the building. The potential to make it translucent. The potential to make it interactive with the folks outside. We can literally tell which plane is flying over, and we can say, "Welcome, all of you coming from New York." ... So there's all sorts of potential applications, and we've just barely scratched the surface.