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‘Everyone will have the best seat in the house’: MSG takes wraps off Sphere London

Madison Square Garden Company has restated its aim to grow the local live entertainment market with MSG Sphere London, the first details of which were unveiled yesterday

By Jon Chapple on 21 Mar 2018

MSG Sphere London

A rendering of MSG Sphere London, with London Stadium visible to the east

Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) president Andrew Lustgarten has reiterated the company’s ambition to grow the London market with its plans for a new arena in Stratford, which were officially launched last night at an event attended by a host of MSG execs and UK industry VIPs.

Led by MSG executive chairman Jim Dolan, the invite-only launch event at Copper Box Arena in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park gave attendees their first glimpse at the US giant’s first international venue, based on its spectacular MSG Sphere concept, for which the company hopes to submit a planning application by autumn 2018.

Dolan introduced MSG Sphere as an “intelligent venue that brings the real world and cyber world together like never before” through its combination of a fully programmable exterior; an interior bowl featuring the largest, highest-resolution media display on Earth; and an adaptive beamforming sound system that individually targets each show-goer, meaning “every guest will enjoy the best seat in the house”, he said. MSG’s new Las Vegas arena, where MSG Sphere will debut, will have 18,000 seats, MSG Sphere London’s capacity is expected to be similar.

“MSG Sphere is all about reinventing the live experience,” said Dolan, who read from Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt, which details a virtual-reality environment so real the main character can feel “the perspiration start on his brow”, to illustrate how previously science-fiction environments can eventually become reality. (Similarly, he said, Jules Verne predicted the submarine and HG Wells the atom bomb.)

“We’re going to be introducing whole new forms of entertainment”

“We’re just beginning to imagine where we’ll take our audiences,” he said. “[MSG Sphere has] the most impactful display on Earth – a fact not lost on our sponsors.

“Our intent is to engage the finest artists and content creators across the globe.”

Dolan added that while the “first Spheres will be large”, the modular design of the venue allows for a “rapid deployment across the globe” in future markets.

Immediately following presentations from Dolan, Lustgarten, MSG CTO David Dibble and MSG’s new executive VP of development and construction, Jayne McGivern, guests were invited to explore a ‘science fair’ set up elsewhere in Copper Box Arena, which featured a 150-cap. working replica of MSG Sphere along with demonstrations of the venue’s audio and VR capabilities, its haptic floor set-up and a HoloGuide ‘digital concierge’.

MSG Sphere London

A 12-metre ‘immersive theatre’ gave a taste of the experience inside MSG Sphere, showing both live action (captured on MSG’s 10 x 8k 360° camera rig) and CG content broadcast across its 16,000 x 16,000-pixel screens, while a ‘steerable sound experience’ provided a demonstration of an audio system that puts “every guest in the sweet spot”.

The HoloGuide, meanwhile, guides guests through the venue, using speech and facial recognition and a holographic display to answer frequently asked questions such as the locations of the closest F&B stands or toilets.

Speaking to IQ at the event, Lustgarten said despite its particular suitability for ‘immersive’ entertainment experiences such as esports/gaming and other video-heavy events, standard rock shows will also “work perfectly” at MSG Sphere, with its in-the-round lay-out “fabulous for regular concerts”, as well as longer residencies.

While the “first Spheres will be large”, the modular design of the venue allows for a “rapid deployment across the globe”

While Dolan said MSG aims to own “as much of IP as possible” for video content used in the Sphere, building a library which can be used in all future Sphere venues, he made clear the company is also “actively seeking strategic partnerships” with content creators – something emphasised by Lustgarten, who says MSG operates an “open venue” policy that allows “various forms of content to play: ones we own and ones we don’t”.

Lustgarten also responded to yesterday’s intervention from The O2 operator AEG, which expressed its reservations over the placing of MSG Sphere, saying there remains a “question mark over whether such a venue should be located in east London so close to existing venues at the Olympic Park – such as the London Stadium and Copper Box – as well as AEG’s own nearby venue, The O2 Arena”. The two companies are additionally engaged in a block-booking dispute, the latest twist in which saw MSG-aligned Live Nation report AEG to the UK authorities on competition grounds.

Lustgarten echoed McGivern’s remarks last month that MSG is focused on “growing the market” rather than taking market share from other operators, and said history shows that when a new venue is introduced into a healthy touring market it does just that.

“We think The O2 is an amazing venue,” said Lustgarten, “but with The O2, SSE [Arena Wembley], Hammersmith [Apollo], I’m not sure where else you’d put a new venue! Plus, we love Stratford for its connectivity: there’s tons of parking, five railway lines, Crossrail is coming…”

“When we did the Forum [MSG took over and renovated the Forum in Los Angeles in 2012], the concert business there grew by 65%,” he explained. “The market is definitely going to grow – and with MSG Sphere, we’re going to be introducing whole new forms of entertainment to London.”


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