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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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Agents, artists out of pocket after PMF bankruptcy

Booking agencies, artists and management companies are among those owed a combined C$13.2 million (US$9.8m) by Pemberton Music Festival Limited Partnership and 1115666 BC Ltd – the two holding companies behind Canada’s Pemberton Music Festival (PMF), which filed for bankruptcy last week.

PMF, promoted by New Orleans-based Huka Entertainment, entered receivership last Friday after finding itself unable to plug a $10m hole in its finances for 2017. Administrators at Ernst & Young (EY) advised the festival will not be reimbursing those with tickets (as, “with PMF in bankruptcy, it has no ability to provide refunds”), and EY has since directed ticketholders to “contact their bank or credit card issuer directly […] in determining whether a refund can be obtained.”

More than 18,000 people have bought tickets to Pemberton Music Festival 2017, which was to have been headlined by Chance the Rapper, Muse and A Tribe Called Quest. Bankruptcy documents list ticketholders as unsecured creditors, showing they are collectively owed nearly $8.23m.

In addition to the usual smattering of contractors, production companies and the taxman (Canada Revenue Agency [CRA] is owed $1.7m), other unsecured PMF creditors include an agency, two artists, two management companies and performance rights organisation Socan (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada).

Toronto-based The Feldman Agency, Canada’s largest independent booking agency, is owed $10,593.75, while WME act Lovecoast – who played PMF in 2015 – are out of pocket a more modest $107.52.

PS Business Management, meanwhile – whose roster has included Arcade Fire, Hot Chip, Tame Impala, Cut Copy and Natasha Bedingfield – is owed $70,007.31, while Burnt Tree Entertainment, which manages several artists but also lists Pemberton Music Festival as a client for its marketing/consulting division, is due $12,168.24.

PMF additionally owes secured creditors $3.6m, who will be be paid in full before unsecured creditors

After CRA and the festival’s ticketholders, Socan, which issues public performances licences, is one of the biggest unsecured creditors, with an outstanding debt of $373,016.

Promoter Huka Productions is also owed $99,762.96, although it is also listed as a debtor to the tune of $349,905.

PMF additionally owes its secured creditors – two companies called 1644609 Alberta Ltd and Janspec Holdings Limited – $3.6m, which would usually be paid in full before any money was reimbursed to unsecured creditors.

Aside from its obligations to creditors, PMF is also facing the threat of legal action from WME, whose head of music, Marc Geiger, has spoken of his intention to pursue the festival’s organisers “to the full extent of the law”.

Speaking to Billboard, Geiger – whose WME agency represents Haim, Ben Harper and several other PMF 2017 performers – says it is investors who must bear the responsibility for the festival’s insolvency – not fans. “This is just gross to me,” he says. “These guys are declaring bankruptcy, but none of them are actually bankrupt. Their shell company is bankrupt. And now they want fans to pay the price.

“That’s not bankruptcy. That’s fraud.”


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Axed Pemberton lost “several million” in 3 years

Canada’s Pemberton Music Festival, which filed for bankruptcy on Friday, has burned through “several million” US dollars in cash losses since its debut three years ago, according to administrator Ernst & Young (EY).

Pemberton Music Festival (PMF), which was revived by Huka Entertainment in 2014 after a one-off outing with Live Nation in 2008, was the biggest music festival in British Columbia, attracting close to 180,000 attendees last summer.

Despite increasing revenue from ticket sales ~100% year on year from 2014 to 2015 – US$5.8m to $10.3m – and a further $5m in 2016, revenue to date for 2017 is just $8.23m (against expenses of $22m), and festival operating companies Pemberton Music Festival Limited Partnership and General Partner, 1115666 BC Ltd now owe creditors approximately $2.5m.

PMF also incurred “significant losses” from 2014 to 2016, bankruptcy filings reveal.

The festival’s bankruptcy is attributed to the relative weakness of the Canadian dollar to its US counterpart – which doesn’t bode well for UK festivals faced with a slumping pound sterling – as well as difficulties in sourcing talent “due to a limited number of artists touring in 2017”. Acts booked for 2017 included Chance the Rapper, Muse, A Tribe Called Quest, Haim, Major Lazer, Diplo, Run the Jewels and MGMT.

“We are extremely disappointed for our fans, artists and all of our partners who have supported the festival over the years”

The cash shortfall for 2017 was expected to exceed $10m, with “no certainty of cash available” to fill the hole in the festival’s finances, says EY.

The more than 18,000 people who had already bought tickets for the event will not receive automatic refunds – as, “with PMF in bankruptcy, it has no ability to provide refunds for tickets purchased” – although ticketholders may file a proof-of-claim form with EY as unsecured creditors.

A statement from Huka, which will continue to promote Tortuga Music Festival in Florida, makes it clear it was PMF’s directors who made the decision to file for bankruptcy. “For the past four years Huka Entertainment has worked to create a one-of-a-kind experience in the most beautiful place on earth,” it reads. “We are heartbroken to see the 2017 Pemberton Music Festival cancelled.

“As a contract producer, Huka did not make the decision to cancel the festival. That decision was made by the Pemberton Music Festival LP. We are extremely disappointed for our fans, artists and all of our partners who have supported the festival over the years.”


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