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NY launches Covid-19 pass to fast-track return to live

New York has become the first US state to launch a digital Covid-19 pass that shows citizens’ vaccination status and test results, in an effort to help venues welcome larger groups.

Madison Square Garden (cap. 20,789) in New York City and the Times Union Center (cap. 17,500) in Albany are among the major venues that have already announced they will begin to utilise the Excelsior Pass in the coming weeks.

Smaller arts, entertainment and event venues will be able to use the Excelsior Pass from 2 April.

The pass can either be printed out or stored on smartphones using the Excelsior Pass Wallet app. Each pass will have a secure QR code, which participating businesses and venues can scan using a companion app to verify proof of Covid-19 negative test results or proof of vaccination.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the Excelsior Pass, developed in partnership with IBM, on Friday (26 March).

“New Yorkers have proven they can follow public health guidance to beat back Covid, and the innovative Excelsior Pass is another tool in our new toolbox to fight the virus while allowing more sectors of the economy to reopen safely and keeping personal information secure,” said governor Cuomo.

“The Excelsior Pass will play an important role in allowing people to gather safely, which will be critical to NY’s recovery”

“The question of ‘public health or the economy’ has always been a false choice — the answer must be both. As more New Yorkers get vaccinated each day and as key public health metrics continue to regularly reach their lowest rates in months, the first-in-the-nation Excelsior Pass heralds the next step in our thoughtful, science-based reopening,” he said.

James Dolan, executive chairman, MSG Sports and executive chairman and CEO, MSG Entertainment, says: “We are grateful the state is focused on doing everything possible to reopen businesses across our region safely and quickly. The Excelsior Pass will play an important role in allowing people to gather safely, which will be critical to New York’s recovery. We were proud to be part of the Excelsior Pass pilot and look forward to participating in the programme.”

Madison Square Garden (MSG) was part of the pilot programme to test the Excelsior Pass.

The initial phase of the pilot took place during a Brooklyn Nets game at Barclays Center (cap. 19,000) on 27 February and was tested for a second time during a New York Rangers game at MSG on 2 March.

Following that, major stadiums and arenas in New York were permitted to reopen with a capacity of 10% from 23 February, using guidelines based on the testing programme.

Similar ‘vaccine passports’ are already being developed, or are under consideration, in a number of European Union countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic and Cyprus.

An EU-wide vaccine passport that could replace the piecemeal approach currently being pursued by individual member states, was put forward last week.

 


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MSG Ent announces first-ever virtual residency

MSG Entertainment has announced its very first virtual residency with Phish frontman Trey Anastasio at New York City’s historic venue, The Beacon Theatre.

The eight-week residency, The Beacon Jams, will be livestreamed exclusively through video live streaming service Twitch every Friday from 9 October to 27 November.

The Beacon Jams performances will have no live audience and will feature acoustic and electric performances as well as home audience interaction.

All proceeds from The Beacon Jams donations will benefit Phish’s long-running non-profit, the WaterWheel Foundation, and its new Divided Sky Fund (DSF).

The proceeds will be used to deliver help to those affected by addiction and help further plans to open a treatment centre in Vermont.

“As we navigate the live music scene through this socially distant world, we couldn’t think of a more natural way to bring live music to so many fans for such a great cause,” says Darren Pfeffer, executive vice president, MSG Entertainment.

“Trey’s connection not only with the Beacon Theatre, but with all our venues over the years, including Madison Square Garden, The Chicago Theatre, and Radio City Music Hall, have made this unique concept a perfect partnership.”

“Fans of Trey and Phish will be able to attend from anywhere in the world, feeling like they are in the front row of the Beacon”

Will Farrell-Green, head of music content at Twitch says: “We could not be more excited to be part of this amazing partnership with Trey Anastasio and MSG Entertainment to help raise donations for such worthy causes.

“Twitch offers the same intimate experience that artists and their audiences have come to expect from live shows. Over the course of this virtual residency, fans of Trey and Phish will be able to attend performances from anywhere in the world, while feeling like they are right in the front row of the Beacon.”

“I’ve been sober for 13 years,” Anastasio says, “It’s a great blessing in my life. We started talking about the idea of a treatment centre about a year ago.

“I was worried that the project would get derailed because of the pandemic but it didn’t – it actually picked up steam; things are really rolling along now. The Beacon Jams emerged as a way to raise money for it while also allowing me to play for the fans again.”

This is Anastasio’s second residency with MSG Entertainment in recent years after Phish completed a residency at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2017 – a 13-night run known as The Baker’s Dozen.

Alongside Madison Square Garden and The Beacon Theatre, MSG Entertainment’s venues include Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden; Radio City Music Hall and The Chicago Theatre.

The company is also building a new state-of-the-art venue in Las Vegas, MSG Sphere at The Venetian, and has announced plans to build a second MSG Sphere in London, pending necessary approvals.

 


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MSG sets out further Sphere London commitments

Madison Square Garden Entertainment has set out further details of its London arena project, MSG Sphere.

The futuristic 21,500-capacity arena – which will, if approved, occupy a nearly five-acre site in Stratford, east London – has overcome a major hurdle after Network Rail, which manages much of the UK’s railway network, withdrew its objection to Sphere following consultation with MSG and local partners.

“We are pleased to provide additional details in support of our planning application for MSG Sphere, underlining our commitment to create jobs and boost the local economy,” comments Jayne McGivern, MSG Entertainment’s executive vice-president of development and construction. “The materials reflect the constructive dialogue we have had with a range of local stakeholders, and further demonstrate the careful consideration that has gone into every aspect of our plans.”

The updated documents – issued in response to a request from the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which is considering MSG’s planning application – can be read on the LLDC planning portal here.

In addition to its work with Network Rail, the MSG submission includes a number of voluntary planning conditions the company says addresses feedback from LLDC and local residents.

“The materials reflect the constructive dialogue we have had with a range of local stakeholders”

They include parameters around the hours of operation, event timings and the high-tech venue’s eye-catching external display, including restrictions on overnight lighting, as well as measures to coordinate arrival and departure times for event attendees.

Another contains a proposal to provide 111 disabled parking spaces at Stratford International station with free mobility assistance to the arena.

MSG originally hoped Sphere London could open in 2022 – a year after its sister venue in Las Vegas – but with the planning process continuing well into 2020, that is no longer a “realistic” goal, the company said last November. (The opening of MSG Sphere Las Vegas has since been pushed back to 2023 after construction was halted by coronavirus.)

The latest submission to the LLDC builds on previous commitments made by MSG Entertainment, including a guarantee that all on-site jobs will be paid at least the London living wage, investment in a new entrance and ticket hall for Stratford station, and a commitment to employing local people for least 35% of construction and operational jobs.

“We are confident our proposal thoughtfully sets out how we will deliver a world-class venue, and remain excited about the opportunity to bring MSG Sphere to London,” continues McGivern.

 


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Layoffs sweep MSG Entertainment

MSG Entertainment, which operates New York venues Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, has announced 350 layoffs, totalling a third of its corporate workforce.

Its sister company, MSG Sports, which owns basketball team, the New York Knicks, and ice hockey team, New York Rangers, is also cutting 50 jobs, or about 15% of its corporate staff.

“This was a difficult decision for both companies, as we know that our success rests on the strength of our people, who consistently set the industry standard for excellence and professionalism,” a rep for MSG Entertainment and MSG Sports told New York Post.

“This was a difficult decision for both companies, as we know that our success rests on the strength of our people”

“While we believe this is a necessary step to protect the long-term future of our businesses, we continue to actively pursue solutions that will allow us to safely reopen our doors, so we’re able to bring as many employees back as quickly as we can, once a return date for live events is established.”

According to the Post, employees affected by layoffs will receive a severance and benefit package, as well as outplacement support.

The news of the layoffs comes after MSG announced the cancellation of its annual musical holiday stage show, Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes presented at Radio City Music Hall, due to uncertainty associated with the pandemic.

The company also operates the MSG Sphere Las Vegas, which is expected to be complete in 2021, and its sister venue in London following a year later, pending approval.

 


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Ted King to head up content for MSG Sphere venues

Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment has announced that 35-year entertainment industry veteran, Ted King, will join the company as president of creative content and studio productions, effective from 22 June.

Prior to MSG, King served as a senior show producer for Paramont and led creative development of projects at Pictures’ Themed Entertainment. He has also served as principal of Ted King Entertainment, which he founded in 2009, and was executive producer at Granaroli Design & Entertainment, which he joined in 2011.

In his role at MSG Entertainment – MSG’s newly separated entertainment business – King will lead MSG Sphere Studios, focusing on developing content for the multi-sensory MSG Sphere venues, the first of which is being built in Las Vegas with another planned for London, pending necessary approvals.

In addition, King will work with MSG Sphere construction and MSG Ventures, the team behind the venue’s state-of-the-art technologies, to develop tools that help to maximise MSG Sphere’s immersive capabilities, which include a fully programmable LED exterior and spatial sound.

He will report to MSG Entertainment’s executive chairman and chief executive officer, James Dolan.

“Ted understands how to build powerful environments, making him ideally suited to help us unlock MSG Sphere’s potential”

“With MSG Sphere, we’re using cutting-edge technology to transform the entertainment venue and construct an entirely new platform,” says Dolan. “As an experiential storyteller, Ted understands how to build powerful environments, making him ideally suited to help us unlock MSG Sphere’s potential and create experiences that truly transport audiences.

“Ted has spent the last year as a consultant on this project, and we are thrilled to make him an official part of our MSG Entertainment family.”

“This is a tremendous opportunity to be part of an exciting vision for the future of entertainment – fully immersive experiences on a grand scale,” adds King. “I am excited to be joining the team and look forward to building on the rich legacy of the Company.”

MSG Sphere Studios, MSG Ventures and other MSG Entertainment employees will use a new, 48,500 square-foot space that MSG Entertainment is opening in Hollywood’s Burbank Studios.

The space will feature a 10,500 square-foot soundstage – originally home to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson – which is currently being transformed into a full-service studio that includes production, editing, camera testing, and recording space.

 


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MSG completes entertainment spin-off

MSG Entertainment has become a new public company, as the Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) completes the spin-off of its entertainment businesses from its sports company.

The newly separate MSG Entertainment started trading on the New York stock exchange today (20 April) under the symbol MSGE, with shares opening at $68. Each MSG common stockholder received one share of MSGE Class A or B common stock for every common stock of MSG they held before the spin-off.

Former WeWork executive, Mark FitzPatrick, has been named executive vice president and chief financial officer of MSG Entertainment, with MSG’s Andrew Lustgarden serving as president of the new company.

The entertainment company retains no equity interest in MSG Sports, which now trades as MSGS, following revisions to an initial spin-off plan in November 2019.

“While the current environment presents significant challenges to our industry, we are confident in the future, and look forward to MSG Entertainment building on its reputation as a leader in live experiences,” says James Dolan, executive chairman and CEO of MSG Entertainment.

“While the current environment presents significant challenges to our industry, we are confident in the future”

“We are also very pleased to welcome Mark, a talented corporate finance executive who brings extensive experience working with well-known companies. We believe he is the ideal executive to help guide MSG Entertainment as we continue to pursue excellence across our operations.”

MSG Entertainment’s assets include New Yorks’ Madison Square Garden and the adjoining Hulu Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theatre and the Chicago Theatre, as well as developing the cutting-edge ‘Sphere’ arenas in Las Vegas and London.

Prior to the spin-off last month, MSG sold the 18,000-capacity Forum in Inglewood to LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer in an $400 million all-cash deal.

MSGE also retains majority interesting in hospitality company Tao Group and Boston Calling Events, the producer of Boston Calling Music Festival.

Photo: Min Lee/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

 


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