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MSG Entertainment renews James Dolan’s contract

James Dolan has inked a new three-year contract to continue as the CEO and chairman of MSG Entertainment.

He will lead the New York-based live events company until June 2027, the company revealed last week in a regulatory filing.

Dolan, who is also the CEO of both MSG Sports and Sphere Entertainment Co., will be paid a base salary of $1.5 million per year for leading MSG Entertainment and will have an opportunity to make an annual bonus up to 200% of his salary, according to the filing.

He will also participate in the company’s long-term incentive plan, it adds. Beginning with the fiscal year starting July 1, 2024, he is expected to receive one or more incentive awards with a target value of at least $8.6m.

Point72 Asset Management has acquired a 5.5% stake in Sphere Entertainment Co

In the fiscal year ended 30 June 2023, Dolan earned a total compensation of $9.3m from MSG Entertainment. His compensation from Sphere Entertainment, which spun off from MSG Entertainment in 2023 ahead of the launch of the Sphere venue in Las Vegas in September, amounted to $16.3m. In addition, Dolan earned a total of $11m from MSG Sports.

In other news, billionaire hedge fund titan and owner of the New York Mets Steve Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management has acquired a 5.5% stake in Sphere Entertainment Co, which owns the state-of-the-art Las Vegas Sphere venue.

Point72 disclosed in a regulatory filing on Monday (24 June) that it acquired 1.56 million shares of Sphere Entertainment Co in the second quarter, including 582,400 Class A Common Stock shares, which are issuable upon exercise of options.

This is the second time Point72 has acquired a chunk of Sphere stock, having previously owned 262,102 shares at the end of 2023, which it sold in the first quarter, the New York Post reported.

In the wake of the news, Sphere stock jumped 7.2% to $34.84 on Tuesday.

 


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Sphere #2: Talks ongoing ‘with several markets’

Sphere Entertainment boss Jim Dolan has revealed talks are ongoing with “several” markets about constructing a second Sphere venue.

The futuristic $2.3 billion development launched in Las Vegas in September 2023 with the 40-night U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere residency, and while a proposed London replica was aborted in acrimonious circumstances, other territories such as the UAE have remained in the frame.

Speaking during the Madison Square Garden spin-off’s fiscal Q3 2024 earnings call, Dolan denied there had been any “hold-up” with the plans, but advised that building another Sphere was no simple feat.

“It’s not like building a McDonald’s; it’s complicated,” said the executive chair and CEO. “It’s a very expensive project. This will only be the second one… in the world that has been built. And so working out all the details and the construction cost and the relationships that are in there does take time.

“There has been plenty of interest over the year, but [it wasn’t] until we launched the product in late September that people really got to see what it was and began to see how it can perform.

“With all that, though, we are in discussions with several markets. We think we’re going to conclude at least one of those markets soon. How soon? I’m not going to predict, but soon. And we continue to hear from new markets too. As the Sphere becomes better known and people begin to understand the economics behind it and what it can do for our marketplace, the interest remains strong.”

“We will never have an act play the Sphere that doesn’t have something compelling up on the screen”

Dolan also appeared to confirm longstanding rumours that the Eagles would be next in line for a Sphere residency after U2, Phish and Dead & Company.

“We’re looking for the acts that are the biggest draws, and we are in discussions with a whole bunch of those,” he said. “Remember, every time an act books the Sphere, they have to create content around it. We will never have an act play the Sphere that doesn’t have something compelling up on the screen. It takes a while to do that, so we’re being too judicious about it. But the more an act plays the Sphere, like U2, the more they can monetise the content across multiple shows and therefore invest more on the content and create an even better show. That’s what we’re seeing now.

“[Dead & Company] premieres on Thursday [16 May]. And I think you’re going to find that — even if you’re not a Deadhead – you’re going to love that show. And I think the same will be true for the Eagles and for the next acts that we bring on.”

For the fiscal 2024 third quarter, the Sphere segment posted revenues of $170.4m – an increase of $169.7m year-on-year. Its operating loss of $83.5m was an improvement of $28.9 million on the prior year quarter, Event-related revenues were $34.3m, while revenues from sponsorship, signage, Exosphere advertising and suite licence fees were $32.9m. Adjusted operating income was $12.9m.

“Our early results continue to demonstrate Sphere’s potential to disrupt the traditional venue model”

“Since its October debut, the signature content category has already generated over $200 million in revenue,” noted Dolan. “That includes more than $1 million in average daily ticket sales in both the second and third quarters. These results reinforce our belief in the value of original content. And we are now developing new cinematic offerings to strengthen this core category.

“On the concert front, headline acts are seeing the advantages of performing at Sphere. U2’s 40 show run grew an audience on par with a national arena tour. Phish sold out its four nights in less than one hour. And Dead & Co. has already extended their upcoming residency.”

Sphere Entertainment reported an operating loss of $40.4m – an improvement of $61.5m compared to the prior year quarter – on revenues of $321.3m (up from $159.3m y-o-y). AOI was $61.5m, as compared to an adjusted operating loss of $18.7m 12 months previously.

“With the second consecutive quarter of robust revenues and positive adjusted operating income at the Sphere segment, our early results continue to demonstrate Sphere’s potential to disrupt the traditional venue model,” concluded Dolan. “We are encouraged by the demand for this new medium and remain confident in our future growth opportunities.”

Today (13 May), Sphere Entertainment announced it has acquired all of the remaining shares it did not previously own of 3D audio technology firm HOLOPLOT, having made its first investment into the leading global company in 2018 when the two companies partnered to develop Sphere Immersive Sound.

 


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Sphere posts losses for fiscal 2024 Q2

The Sphere in Las Vegas has posted losses of US$193.9 million (€179.4m) for fiscal 2024 Q2 – its first full quarter of operation – on revenue of $167.8m.

The next-generation 17,500-seat/20,000-cap Sphere opened in Vegas in September 2023 with U2’s residency, U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At The Sphere. Every show of the U2 run, which wraps up next month after 40 shows and multiple extensions, has sold out so far, with upcoming stints by Phish and Dead & Company set to follow.

According to the company’s latest financial results, which cover the three-month period ending 31 December 2023, the majority of the Sphere’s losses resulted from a non-cash impairment charge of $116.5m in the current year quarter related to the company’s decision to no longer pursue the development of a London replica.

Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment officially withdrew its planning application for the London Sphere project last month – more than five years after the scheme was first announced.

Sphere Entertainment reported event-related revenues of $55.2m, almost entirely from concerts, apart from one marquee sporting event held at the venue during the quarter.

“Sphere is a next-generation medium intended to disrupt the traditional venue model”

The Sphere Experience featuring Postcard from Earth also generated $92.9m across 191 performances after debuting on 6 October, grossing more than £1m in average daily ticket sales.  In addition, sponsorship, signage, Exosphere advertising and suite licence fees brought in $17.5m.

“Sphere is a next-generation medium intended to disrupt the traditional venue model,” says Sphere Entertainment executive chair and CEO James Dolan. “With positive adjusted operating income at the Sphere segment in our first full quarter of operations in Las Vegas, our early results are beginning to prove that thesis, and we remain confident in the global opportunities ahead.”

In December last year, Dolan was reported to be in “serious talks” to build a second Sphere venue – this time in the UAE – which would become MSG’s first property outside of the US.

MSG spin-off Sphere Entertainment encompasses the first Sphere venue as well as MSG Networks and Tao Group Hospitality businesses. The company reported revenues of $314.2m, an increase of $154.6m on the prior year quarter, and an operating loss of $159.7m, (up from the prior year’s quarter $109.9m). Adjusted operating income was $51.4m, compared to $13.2m in the same quarter last year.

 


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MSG boss in ‘serious talks’ over second Sphere

Madison Square Garden (MSG) boss James Dolan is reported to be in “serious talks” to build a second Sphere venue – this time in the United Arab Emirates.

According to the New York Post, Dolan is in discussions with Abu Dhabi investors about building a replica of the $2.3 billion, 20,000-cap Las Vegas Sphere, which would become MSG’s first property outside of the US.

“These are serious talks with Abu Dhabi. They keep going back and forth,” a source told The Post.

A Sphere spokesperson declined to comment on the report, which noted that the UAE capital has emerged as a frontrunner after negotiations apparently stalled with Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

The UAE’s second most populous city after Dubai, Abu Dhabi gained the 18,000-cap Etihad Arena in 2021, which has upcoming shows with the likes of Andre Rieu and Scorpions.

Wireless Festival, meanwhile, attracted 25,000 fans to Etihad Park on Yas Island for its Abu Dhabi debut in March, while November’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s Yasalam After-Race Concerts starred Foo Fighters, Shania Twain, Tiësto, Chris Brown and Ava Max.

The brainchild of Dolan, the futuristic Sphere features a 160,000 sq. foot LED display inside the main venue, which wraps up, over and around the audience for a fully immersive experience in cutting-edge 16K x 16K resolution. The concept launched in Las Vegas at the end of September with the 40-night U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere residency, which runs until March 2024.

American rock band Phish are the next major act to be confirmed and will deliver a four-show run from 18-21 April, while the Post reported last month that Beyoncé was in talks over a potential residency, with Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga also rumoured to be in consideration.

Sphere Entertainment said it was focusing on the “many forward-thinking cities that are eager to bring this technology to their communities”

Speaking to Variety earlier this year, MSG executive chair and CEO Dolan said it was “definitely a big part of the business plan, to build more Spheres all over the world”. “And by the way, different-size ones too – probably not much bigger than the one in Vegas, but we’ve actually gone through already architectural drawings and designs for smaller Spheres for smaller markets,” he added.

However, Sphere Entertainment said last month that it was focusing on the “many forward-thinking cities… eager to bring this technology to their communities” after its long-held plans for a 21,500-cap London spin-off were refused.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan rejected the proposals on the basis they “would result in an unacceptable negative impact on local residents”, but levelling-up secretary Michael Gove has since ordered a six-week pause as he considers whether to call in the application for the development.

In a broadside at Khan, a Sphere spokesperson alleged “the entire five-year planning process was hijacked by the Mayor and his bogus last-minute report”.

“Londoners should be dismayed that they are not going to benefit from this groundbreaking project, and others looking to invest in London should certainly be wary,” continued the statement. “Moreso, everyone should be alarmed by how easily the government’s established process was tossed aside by one politically motivated official.

“Mr Gove’s action, although commendable, still appears to us to be more of the same, and we cannot continue to participate in a process that can be so easily undermined by political winds. As we said previously, we will focus on the many forward-thinking cities.”

 


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MSG’s London Sphere plans ‘moving forward’

Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment boss James Dolan says the company’s controversial MSG London Sphere scheme is “moving forward”.

MSG’s futuristic $2.3 billion Sphere at The Venetian in Las Vegas, US, launched to rave reviews last Friday with U2’s U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere residency, but progress on a proposed London replica has been slow.

But speaking to Variety, MSG executive chair and CEO Dolan insists the development – along with other potential spinoffs outside North America – is “still very much moving forward”.

“That is definitely a big part of the business plan, to build more Spheres all over the world,” he adds. “And by the way, different-size ones too – probably not much bigger than the one in Vegas, but we’ve actually gone through already architectural drawings and designs for smaller Spheres for smaller markets.”

Plans for the 21,500-cap UK venue, which would become MSG’s first property outside of the US, were first announced more than five years ago and were approved in principal by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) in March last year, despite objections from various parties.

However, AEG called on levelling up secretary Michael Gove to block the proposal earlier this year. Gove issued a holding direction to the LLDC, meaning the organisation and London mayor Sadiq Khan are prevented from signing off the plans before Gove rules on whether they need to be “called in” for further scrutiny.

If given final approval, the Sphere will be located in Stratford, east London, four miles from AEG’s The O2 (20,000-cap) in North Greenwich. AEG is a longtime critic of the scheme, having voiced concerns over its proximity to The O2 and – according to a 2019 investigation by The Times – creating a residents’ group in opposition.

“Since we have the experience of building the first one, it won’t be as expensive as the first one”

MSG has suggested that London has an “undersupply” of dedicated large entertainment venues compared with cities such as Berlin, Paris, Madrid and New York. The capital’s next biggest indoor spaces are the 12,500-cap OVO Arena Wembley and the 10,400-cap Alexandra Palace.

The construction costs of the “next generation” Vegas project escalated to $2.3 billion (€2.1bn) – leading some observers to query whether subsequent venues would be too expensive to build (the estimate for the London development was widely reported as £800m, pre-pandemic).

“We have a fully developed construction design and construction company that has a lot of experience building all over the world,” he says. “And since we have the experience of building the first one, it won’t be as expensive as the first one.”

Dolan expects the Vegas Sphere to be profitable despite costs running almost double its original $1.2bn budget.

“Yes, I absolutely expect it to be profitable,” he says. “Will it generate enough profits to justify the capital that was put into it? I think so, but it remains to be seen. I mean, so far, the biggest hurdles in that is making sure that you have a product that the consumer is going to want. And what I’ve seen of our product, I think we have that.

“And then it comes down to marketing and selling tickets and generating revenue and sponsorships, and that all looks like it’s on a very good trajectory. We’re already seeing worldwide interest from other countries that are talking to us about building [Spheres] for them.”

The London project was back in the headlines this week, with the Evening Standard reporting that developers had offered locals blackout blinds to make up for the glowing images they would be broadcasting via the structure’s external LED panels. Officials gave the green light to its digital advertising display plans in January 2023.

 


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Billy Joel to wrap up MSG run with 150th concert

Billy Joel has confirmed his historic 10-year run at New York’s Madison Square Garden will conclude with his 150th show at the venue in July 2024.

It has also been announced that the first of Joel’s final 10 dates in his record-breaking residency at the 20,000-cap arena will take place on 20 October 2023. The show, which is part of the Montefiore Concert Series, is being promoted by MSG Entertainment in association with AEG Presents and Q104.3 as a media partner.

Joel was named Madison Square Garden’s first-ever music franchise in December 2013, beginning his stint in January 2014 and playing one show every month at The Garden for “as long as the demand continues”, as he said at the time. The 74-year-old has sold more than 1.6 million tickets to fans from over 120 countries throughout the course of his record-breaking run.

“Billy always has a home here at MSG even though the residency is coming to an end with his 150th lifetime performance”

“Billy Joel’s franchise run has made history – not only for Madison Square Garden, but also for the music industry overall,” said MSG Entertainment executive chairman and CEO James Dolan. “150 sold out lifetime shows is a remarkable achievement, and speaks to Billy’s extraordinary talent, beloved catalogue, and dedicated fanbase. Billy always has a home here at MSG even though the residency is coming to an end with his 150th lifetime performance.”

Joel’s history with MSG began with his first performance at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” on December 14, 1978. In 2006, with 12 consecutive performances, Joel set the record for “most consecutive performances by any artist.” To commemorate the historic moment, a banner stating Joel – 12 was raised to The Garden rafters, making him the first entertainer in the venue’s history to accomplish this feat.

In January 2015, he broke his own record of the “most consecutive performances by any artist” with the 13th show of the residency and a new banner was raised to The Garden’s rafters. In July 2015, with his 65th lifetime show, Joel broke another record for the “most lifetime performances by any artist”.

 


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MSG Entertainment announces ‘Sphere Experiences’

Madison Square Garden Entertainment has announced “Sphere Experiences” as part of its opening programming at MSG Sphere at The Venetian in Las Vegas.

One of the core content categories to be featured at the 20,000-cap venue, the experiences concept will launch this October with a “first-of-its-kind” immersive production Postcard from Earth.

The result of collaborations between Sphere Studios – Sphere’s in-house creative and production studio – and acclaimed storytellers and creatives, Sphere Experiences are original immersive productions designed exclusively for the facility. Each Sphere Experience will be approximately 60 minutes in length, and productions are slated to run multiple times per day, year-round.

“We are redefining the future of entertainment through Sphere,” says James L. Dolan, executive chairman and CEO, MSG Entertainment. “Sphere provides a new medium for directors, artists, and brands to create experiences that cannot be seen or told anywhere else, and Sphere Experiences are just one of the ways we will use the venue’s technologies to engage the senses and transport audiences to places both real and imagined.

Postcard from Earth will set a new bar for multi-sensory storytelling possibilities”

Postcard from Earth will set a new bar for multi-sensory storytelling possibilities, and we look forward to having audiences experience it at Sphere this fall.”

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Postcard from Earth project will be directed by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, with production currently underway. As the first Sphere Experience, it will “utilise the full breadth of Sphere’s technological capabilities to create a multi-sensory storytelling journey”.

MSG Sphere will introduce the first 16K screen that wraps up, around, and behind the audience, and also boasts Sphere Immersive Sound and 4D technologies. U2 will launch the venue this autumn with the U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At The Sphere residency.

Earlier this year, MSG promoted long-serving executive Josephine Vaccarello to EVP, live. Vaccarello will lead the company’s live entertainment bookings across all of its venues, including MSG Sphere Las Vegas

 


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U2 residency to launch MSG Sphere Las Vegas

U2 will launch the state-of-the-art MSG Sphere at The Venetian in Las Vegas with a residency this autumn.

The band announced the project, U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At The Sphere, via a commercial during yesterday’s Super Bowl. Information regarding the Live Nation-presented show dates and on sale details is still to be announced.

Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. will miss the gigs as he takes time out to undergo and recuperate from surgery in 2023, with Bram van den Berg set to step in as a temporary replacement.

Bono, The Edge and Adam say, “It’s going to take all we’ve got to approach the Sphere without our bandmate in the drum seat, but Larry has joined us in welcoming Bram van den Berg who is a force in his own right.

“The Sphere show has been in the works for a long time. We don’t want to let people down, least of all our audience… the truth is we miss them as much as they appear to miss us… our audience was always the fifth member of the band.”

“The Sphere is more than just a venue, it’s a gallery and U2’s music is going to be all over the walls”

This special run of concerts – based around the group’s classic 1991 album Achtung Baby, marks their first live outing in four years, following The Joshua Tree 30th anniversary stadium tour, which was seen by 3.28 million fans worldwide from 2017-19, and grossed US$390.8 million.

Their 2018 Experience + Innocence arena tour also played to a combined audience of almost one million across Europe and North America.

“Bottom line, U2 hasn’t played live since December 2019 and we need to get back on stage and see the faces of our fans again,” add the trio. “And what a unique stage they’re building for us out there in the desert… We’re the right band, Achtung Baby the right album, and the Sphere the right venue to take the live experience of music to the next level… That’s what U2’s been trying to do all along with our satellite stages and video installations, most memorably on the ZOO TV Tour, which ended in Tokyo 30 years ago this fall.

“The Sphere is more than just a venue, it’s a gallery and U2’s music is going to be all over the walls.”

“MSG Sphere’s advanced technology allows a legendary band like U2 to bring its music to life in entirely new ways”

MSG Sphere will introduce the first 16K screen that wraps up, around, and behind the audience, and also boasts Sphere Immersive Sound and 4D technologies.

“The beauty of the Sphere is not only the ground-breaking technology that will make it so unique, with the world’s most advanced audio system, integrated into a structure which is designed with sound quality as a priority; it’s also the possibilities around immersive experience in real and imaginary landscapes,” adds The Edge. “In short, it’s a canvas of an unparalleled scale and image resolution and a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We all thought about it and decided we’d be mad not to accept the invitation.”

“MSG Sphere’s advanced technology allows a legendary band like U2 to bring its music to life in entirely new ways,” says Madison Square Garden Entertainment (MSG) Corp. executive chairman and CEO James L. Dolan. “The Sphere is a new medium that will redefine entertainment.”

Last month, MSG promoted long-serving executive Josephine Vaccarello to EVP, live. Vaccarello will lead the company’s live entertainment bookings across all of its venues, including MSG Sphere Las Vegas

Madison Square Garden’s controversial MSG Sphere London scheme recently overcame another hurdle after officials backed its digital advertising display plans. The proposed venue, which was approved in principal in March last year, will be covered in LED panels designed to display “moving images, artistic content and branded advertising across the entire façade of the building”.

Despite a number of objections from various parties, the scheme won the support of the London Legacy Development Corporation’s (LLDC) at a meeting on 24 January, subject to a five-year review.

 


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MSG ups Josephine Vaccarello to EVP, live

Madison Square Garden Entertainment (MSG) has promoted long-serving executive Josephine Vaccarello to executive vice-president, live.

Vaccarello, who began her MSG in 1998 as an administrative assistant, previously served as SVP, MSG live and business operations.

In her new role, she will lead the company’s live entertainment bookings business across all of its venues, including New York’s Madison Square Garden, The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre, and The Chicago Theatre. She will also be responsible for booking concert residencies at the new MSG Sphere, which is scheduled to open in Las Vegas in the second half of this year.

“Over her tenure at MSG Entertainment, Josephine has been instrumental in growing our live event business by pursuing innovative opportunities including multi-night bookings and unique residencies, and bringing unforgettable events featuring the world’s biggest artists to our venues,” says James Dolan, MSG executive chairman and CEO. “In this new leadership role, I am confident she will continue to raise the bar within the live entertainment industry by leveraging her unparalleled relationships and expertise across our portfolio and in booking our newest venue – the state-of-the-art MSG Sphere.”

“We have a lot of big ideas for the future that will make an indelible mark on live entertainment”

Vaccarello was most recently responsible for booking concerts, comedy, all family entertainment and theatrical properties, and special events, in addition to overseeing the live division’s business strategy. She has been instrumental in bringing residencies and shows to MSG venues including Billy Joel’s ongoing run; 15 nights of Harry Styles and Phish’s annual New Year’s Eve run.

As EVP, live, she will focus on optimising the use of MSG venues and developing strategies that maximise growth by introducing new signature events, conceptualising artist residencies, and delivering unique experiences for artists and fans.

“Throughout my 25 years at this company, I’ve had unique opportunities to grow and evolve my career within the organisation, and I’m honoured to take on this elevated leadership role, particularly as MSG Entertainment expands its live entertainment business,” says Vaccarello. “We have a lot of big ideas for the future that will make an indelible mark on live entertainment and I’m looking forward to continuing to create iconic moments with artists for our fans in New York, Chicago and soon, Las Vegas.”

Earlier this week, MSG announced that it expects to complete its proposed spin-off its live entertainment and MSG Networks divisions by the end of March.

 


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MSG moves forward with spin-off proposal

Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment has filed plans with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to spin-off its live entertainment and MSG Networks divisions.

The proposed move, which remains subject to various conditions, would separate those businesses from the firm’s MSG Sphere and Tao Group Hospitality businesses, creating a separately-traded public company.

Alongside New York City’s 20,000-cap Madison Square Garden, the live entertainment and media firm is expected to include The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theatre and The Chicago Theatre, along with the firm’s entertainment and sports bookings business and long-term arena licence agreements with the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.

MSG Entertainment would then comprise the MSG Sphere venues, a majority interest in TAO Group Hospitality, an approximately one-third economic interest in the live entertainment and media company; and the majority of the company’s cash on hand.

If the company proceeds with the separation, it would be structured as a tax-free spin-off to all MSGE shareholders. MSG previously completed the spin-off of its entertainment businesses from its sports company in 2020.

“Looking ahead, we expect fiscal 2023 to be a defining year as we make progress toward the completion of MSG Sphere in Las Vegas and our potential spin-off”

MSG revealed the latest development as part of its financial report for fiscal Q1 2023, the three-month period ending 30 September 2022.

The company reported revenues of $401.2 million, up 36% on the prior year quarter, and an operating loss of $44.8m (an improvement of 46%), and adjusted operating income of $2.8m, a decrease of $7.5m, or 73%, compared to the prior year period.

“We are pleased with our start to the year, with first quarter results reflecting robust ongoing demand for our portfolio of assets and brands,” says executive chairman and CEO James Dolan. “Looking ahead, we expect fiscal 2023 to be a defining year as we make progress toward the completion of MSG Sphere in Las Vegas and our potential spin-off, both of which we believe will deliver long-term value for our shareholders.”

The fiscal quarter was highlighted by a busy calendar of events at MSG venues, strength in Tao Group Hospitality’s key markets, including Las Vegas and New York, and robust sales and renewal activity within marketing partnerships and suites.

 


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