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MSG: Concert touring to return from late September

Madison Square Garden Entertainment, owner of the New York arena of the same name, beat analyst expectations in the fourth financial quarter of 2021, sending its share price to US$72.55, an increase of 16.2%, as of close of business yesterday (23 August).

The company’s Q4 results, which reflected the return of live events to its US venues, saw it increase entertainment revenues to US$31.1 million for the three months ending 30 June – up 264% on Q4 2020’s $8.6m – and narrow adjusted operating losses by 12%, from $90.2m to $79.6m. Event-related revenues specifically increased by $3.5m primarily “due to select events held in the current year quarter”, such as three New York Knicks basketball games and a sold-out full-capacity concert by Foo Fighters.

Speaking during the firm’s Q4 earnings call yesterday, MSG Entertainment president Andy Lustgarten said: “While we are clearly operating in a very fluid environment, we successfully navigated through one of the most challenging times in our company’s history and remain cautiously optimistic about the road ahead. Looking back at fiscal 2021, we saw number of positives, and I am proud of the role we played in helping to shepherd the return of live entertainment in New York as our venues hosted the city’s first large-scale events since the start of pandemic.”

He also told analysts that MSG is making “meaningful progress on our next chapter, MSG Sphere in Las Vegas” – one of two high-tech Sphere arenas planned, along with one in Stratford, London – “heading towards the venue’s opening in calendar 2023.”

Lustgarden said he expects “concert touring to begin ramping back up in late September, leading to a strong concert booking schedule on a full-year basis” for the company.

“2022 is currently pacing ahead of fiscal 2020, which was slated to be a record bookings year”

“In fact, fiscal 2022 is currently pacing ahead of fiscal 2020, which was slated to be a record bookings year for our company prior to the onset of the pandemic,” he said, adding that holds at Madison Square Garden are up 50% on 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.

While recent weeks have seen a number of cancellations as the delta variant of Covid-19 spreads, the US continues to lead the way on the reopening of the concert business.

The MSG Entertainment president also referenced recent remarks by Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino that the live music market will explode when coronavirus restrictions are lifted, particularly from 2022 onwards.

“There is real demand for artists to be on the road,” said Lustgarden. “We feel even more confident in this after listening to Live Nation’s recent public comments, where they talk about the touring business for the years to come. Live Nation has a different purview to what we do, because they are buying global tours and mapping them out at the right time, so while we speak directly to artists, they are speaking to whole tours.

“Together – between what we are seeing and hearing from artists, and what we are hearing from Live Nation – we feel really good about not only this fiscal year, but what the future could be for the next few.”

In addition to the Garden (pictured), MSG-owned and/or -operated venues include the Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre, both in New York, and the forthcoming MSG Sphere Las Vegas and MSG Sphere London.


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

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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Madison Square Garden Co appoints new president

Andrew Lustgarten has been named president of Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) following last month’s surprise exit of former president/CEO David O’Connor.

Lustgarten (pictured) joined MSG in 2014 as executive vice-president of corporate development and strategy, and has since overseen the diversification of MSG’s live offering, including its acquisitions of hospitality company TAO Group, Bosting Calling festival promoter Boston Calling Events and esports organisation Counter Logic Gaming.

Prior to joining MSG, Lustgarten spent seven years at the National Basketball Association (NBA), where he served as SVP of global strategy.

MSG’s executive chairman, James Dolan, takes over as CEO.

“Andy is the perfect person to help lead MSG at this point in its history”

“Andy is the perfect person to help lead MSG at this point in its history,” comments Dolan. “His unique experience in sports, live entertainment management and corporate development will be critically important as we continue to focus on enhancing our core businesses and identifying compelling opportunities that further our presence and influence in live experiences.”

Lustgarten adds: “MSG is unlike any other company in the world. There is so much opportunity for our incredible assets to grow and to further expand MSG’s position as the world’s leading sports and entertainment company.

“I am deeply honoured to take on this new role and look forward to working with the extraordinary people across MSG to realise the enormous potential ahead of us.”


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