MSG Sphere Las Vegas
The new sphere in Las Vegas is the coolest building in Las Vegas. It features 580K square feet of fully-programmable LED lighting to produce life-like images visible from miles away. And the story behind it is wilder than the videos it creates:
The Sphere’s story starts with billionaire James Dolan. Yes, that James Dolan who plays blues concerts, and owns the New York Knicks & New York Rangers.
Dolan has never been the most liked. He’s not a self-made billionaire. He was handed his fortunes and sports teams from his father – who founded Cablevision & HBO. It hasn’t helped that the Knicks own the lowest winning percentage in the NBA since Dolan took over.
Dolan doesn’t care what others think. Since selling Cablevision to Altice in 2015, he has focused on growing MSG. MSG also owns Madison Square Garden in NYC, another prestige building Dolan rigged with lots of lights.
The earliest records of Dolan turning his sights to Vegas and the Sphere are in 2016. The idea is simple: With most concerts taking place in sports venues (stadiums, arenas, ballparks, etc.), Dolan wanted to build a venue specifically designed for art and music. At some point in that time, he set his sights on a spherical building.
By 2017, Dolan was found cutting the opening ribbon on the ground where the Sphere now sits: Right next to Las Vegas’ main Strip by the Venetian. It was a stunning, premiere location. Everyone knew it. The local news, the governor – they were all there.
To accommodate the Sphere’s 16K internal screen, the team had to engineer its own unique camera system. Known as Big Sky, it features an insane single 316-megapixel HDR image sensor. It can capture incredibly detailed images that are much larger than 4K cameras.
The team at Sphere built their own image processing software specifically for Big Sky. It uses GPU-accelerated RAW processing to make the workflows of capturing and delivering the content to the Sphere screen practical. With proxy editing, even a laptop can be used.
MSG opened a 68,000-square-foot studio in Burbank, California. It has a 28,000-square-foot miniature sphere for testing, and this is where all the in-house creative, production, tech, software, and engineering teams will implement content on the Sphere’s exterior.
In 2019, Dolan showed up in a CNBC puff-piece. It detailed how Dolan’s real passion project was The Sphere. That’s why the Knicks didn’t do well. It wasn’t his passion, went the piece.
The Sphere was initially scheduled to open in 2021. But construction was suspended in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The specialty screens and audio equipment, the steel – they were all relied on the global supply chain that grinded to a halt.
Even after the pandemic, the project consistently ran over budget. The exec in charge green-lighted this expensive Super Bowl ad. During the broadcast of Super Bowl LVII, U2 debuted a new ad confirming the group’s concert at the new MSG Sphere this Fall. The 15 second video depicting a baby’s head floating in a giant sphere over the Vegas strip before saying the word “achtung.” Dolan replaced the exec in February and personally took over.
One of Dolan’s first projects was spin-off the Sphere from MSG. Dolan loves to financially engineer his risk in a Branson-like manner. So in a weird bit of financial engineering, the Sphere took on MSG’s old stock history.
Dolan’s bet has worked out so far in stock performance. Since SPHR’s spin-off on the stock market, the price is up 31%. That recent uptick can be attributed to the buzz around the recent videos of the exterior, now that it’s on.
The ‘next big thing’ is the inside of the Sphere is U2. It’s going to push the limits of what we know about the Sphere. It promises to be a hype experience: “It’s madness really, but we’d be mad not to”
The other cool thing coming to the Sphere is an immersive production from director Darren Aronofsky, the man behind: Black Swan, The Wrestler, and The Whale.
There are so many interesting growth plays in the Sphere’s future: Esports, NBA expansion team, Selling naming rights to the building. MSG is even working on a second identical sphere in London. Somehow, Dolan has put himself in position to change entertainment.
It’s not just video. It’s also audio. Concert audio is generally a compromise. But not a the sphere, which features 1,800 Holoplot speakers to give every seat the same audio experience.
In total, the inside of the Sphere will have a 160,000 square-foot display. This display plane will wrap up, over, and behind the audience. It’s like a planetarium. But with a resolution 80x HDTV for 20K people.
In closing , here’s the official unveiling from the Sphere via Twitter: