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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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Sphere to be first living wage-accredited major venue

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) has been accredited as a ‘living wage employer’ by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF), IQ can reveal. This includes all on-site jobs at MSG’s planned Sphere arena in Stratford, east London, with the Sphere becoming the first major entertainment venue in the UK to receive the accreditation.

The news comes after MSG announced in December 2019 that all jobs directly on site at MSG Sphere – both during construction as well as once the venue is open – will be paid at least the London living wage (LLW) of £10.75, significantly higher than UK minimum wage of £6.15 for 18–24-year-olds and £7.70 for 21–24-year-olds.

Jayne McGivern, MSG’s EVP of development and construction, says: “We are absolutely committed to developing a groundbreaking venue that will not only redefine the future of entertainment, but also deliver tremendous benefits for local residents – including employment opportunities and training initiatives across a wide range of skill sets.

“That’s why we’re proud to have received this accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation and for MSG Sphere to become the first major entertainment venue in the UK to pay the London living wage as a minimum to everyone employed on site.”

The London Sphere – the US venues giant’s first large-scale international property – will be a showcase for a range of technological innovations, including the largest and highest resolution LED screen in the world, an adaptive acoustics system that delivers clear audio to every guest, and a haptic system so the audience can “feel” the experience.

“We are absolutely committed to developing a groundbreaking venue that will … deliver tremendous benefits for local residents”

MSG says the Sphere will bring thousands of jobs to the local area, including 4,300 jobs annually in the construction phase and 3,200 jobs once open. The New York-based company  has also made a commitment to ensure at least 35% of on-site construction jobs and 35% of on-site operational jobs – from senior managers to venue operations staff – go to local people.

MSG recently submitted updated documents relating to its proposals for MSG Sphere to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which manages the former Olympic site in Stratford on which Sphere will be built. The company – which is currently going through the process of spinning off its entertainment companies from its sports business – recently said Sphere London would likely no longer open in 2022, as planned.

Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation, comments: We’re delighted that The Madison Square Garden Company has joined the movement of over 6,000 responsible employers across the UK who voluntarily commit to go further than the government minimum to make sure all their staff earn enough to live on.

“Accredited businesses recognise that paying the real living wage is the mark of a responsible employer and they believe that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.”

 


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MSG plans full ents spin-off amid UK Sphere delays

Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) expects 2020 to be a “defining year”, as the company prepares to spin-off its entertainment businesses from its sports company and announces changes to Sphere plans.

The announcements were made in an earnings call for the first fiscal quarter of 2020, in which reported an adjusted operating loss of US$41.1 million, compared to $9.9m in Q1 2019. The company puts part of the increased losses down to “additional expenses in MSG Sphere related content and technology”.

The Sphere venues formed a major part of the conversation, with MSG president Andrew Lustgarten confirming that a 2022 opening for the 21,500-capacity London Sphere is “no longer realistic”, as the planning application process looks to continue into 2020.

“As we work through the planning application and design process, our timeline will continue to evolve,” said Lustgarten. “Therefore, we do not have a target opening date at this time.”

MSG vice chairman Gregg Seibert cited the change to the London Sphere opening plans as a reason for the company’s decision to pursue a full spin-off of its entertainment business from its sports business, resulting in no retention of equity interest in the sports company.

“We do not have a target opening date [for the London Sphere] at this time”

“Timeline for the opening of our London venue is evolving and we believe that the entertainment company will have sufficient financial flexibility to pursue its venue expansion plans without the need for the retained interest,” explained Seibert.

MSG had previously explored a spin-off of its sports and entertainment businesses into two distinct public companies, with the entertainment company retaining a one-third stake in MSG sports.

The spin-off remains subject to final approvals by the MSG board and others.

All remains on track for the original MSG Sphere to open in Las Vegas in 2021. MSG believes the venue will be “highly successful”, due to the growing demand for immersive shared experiences, Las Vegas’ positioning as “one of the world’s top entertainment destinations” and a partnership with convention-based resort specialist Las Vegas Sands.

“We expect MSG Sphere to change how we think about the entertainment experience, which is why we anticipate the Las Vegas Sphere becoming the most highly utilised venue in our portfolio.”

The first quarter of 2020 also saw MSG report a quarterly revenue of $214.8m, a 2% decrease year-on-year. The decline was attributed to the absence of a “special event” to replace the MTV Video Music Awards, which took place in Q1 2019.

 


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MSG Sphere further expands content team

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) has appointed award-winning creator Keri Elmsly to the newly created role of senior vice-president, immersive development and production, in the latest addition to its content team.

Elmsly will be tasked with the development of multi-sensory and immersive elements for the MSG Sphere entertainment venues planned for Las Vegas and London. With programmable LED exteriors, the Sphere venues aim to create immersive experiences both externally and internally.

The first MSG Sphere, in Las Vegas, is expected to be completed in 2021, with its London sister venue following a year later. MSG submitted its plans for the London sphere in March, revealing it will sit on a 4.7-acre former coach park located on the site of the 2012 Olympic games, and have a seated/standing capacity up to 21,500.

Elmsly joins Disney alumni Jennifer Vogt, president of creative content and productions, and Kristina Reed, senior vice-president of creative development and strategy on the MSG Sphere content team.

“MSG Sphere represents a truly unique convergence of art and technology that will create a powerful platform for immersive storytelling”

Prior to MSG, Elmsly served as chief creative officer at Second Story, a network of experience design studios. Previously, she produced the world’s first live drone orchestra – a narrative performance with Velvet Underground founder John Cale and Liam Young – as part of London’s Barbican Centre. As an executive producer at United Visual Artists, Elmsly led projects including the kinetic installation ‘Chorus’ and the stage design for Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 tour.

“Throughout her career, Keri’s work has lived at the intersection of technology, art and immersive experiences pushing the boundaries of technology in the name of creative storytelling,” comments Vogt.

“She perfectly complements our multi-faceted team whose collective expertise spans all areas of entertainment – from live action film to animation, Broadway and more – we are creating a team of talented revolutionaries for MSG Sphere.”

“MSG Sphere represents a truly unique convergence of art and technology that will create a powerful platform for immersive storytelling,” says Elmsly. “I’m thrilled to take on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform how we interact with audiences – creating new types of experiences that encourage them to step outside of their everyday reality.”

 


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MSG reports weaker-than-expected Q4

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) today (20 August) reported financial results for the fourth quarter and fiscal year 2019, showing a 5% increase in revenue year-on-year alongside widening losses.

For the final quarter of 2019, MSG generated revenues of US$263.6 million, a 17% decrease from last year’s Q4. Operating losses for the quarter were up 81% from last year at $79.9m, as compared to $44.2m in 2018.

Overall, quarterly losses equated to $3.08 per share, exceeding analysts’ earnings per share (EPS) estimations of a $2.61 loss on each. MSG’s share price decreased by $22 (7%) to $270 following the report.

The company’s market capitalisation, which grew by almost 40% between mid-2017 and mid-2019, stands at $6.42 billion at time of press, as opposed to $6.65bn at the half-year point.

MSG’s entertainment division saw revenues dip by 6% to $174m in Q4, which the company puts down to “lower event-related” earnings at the company’s venues, which include New York’s Madison Square Garden (20,789-cap.) and the Forum (17,505-cap.) in Los Angeles, as well as a decrease in revenue from Boston Calling festival.

“Ongoing demand for our sports and entertainment assets helped drive a number of operational highlights in fiscal 2019″

The company was also affected by the switch to a new accounting standard for revenue recognition, ASC Topic 606, which changes the time at which certain revenues and sports team-related expenses are recognised within the fiscal year.

MSG’s year-long operating losses stand at $13.9 million, in comparison to operating income of $23.1m in 2018. However, revenues are up 5% from 2018 at US$1.6 billion, which the company contributes to growth in both its entertainment and sporting segments.

“Ongoing demand for our sports and entertainment assets helped drive a number of operational highlights in fiscal 2019, including continued growth in bookings, productions, suites, marketing partnerships and media rights,” says MSG executive chairman and chief executive James Dolan.

“Looking ahead, we remain confident in the strength of our core businesses and expect fiscal 2020 to be an important year as we work to complete the proposed sports spin-off and begin to usher in the company’s next chapter, with MSG Sphere in Las Vegas starting to take shape.”

“Significant progress” has been made on the construction of the 18,000-seat arena in Las Vegas, which MSG hopes will open in 2021. The futuristic Sphere concept will also form the basis for MSG’s first non-US venue, which will be located in Stratford, London.

Photo: Ajay Suresh/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

 


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Second Disney alum joins MSG Sphere content team

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) has hired Oscar-winning film producer Kristina Reed (Big Hero 6, Frozen, Madagascar) as senior vice-president, creative development and strategy.

In the newly-created position, Reed, known for her work with DreamWorks and Walt Disney Animation, will develop creative content for the MSG Sphere entertainment venues under development in Las Vegas and London.

Utilising the Spheres’ cutting-edge immersive technology, which includes programmable, wall-to-floor HD screens and steerable spatial sound, Reed will be “responsible for developing and implementing a slate of content for [the] MSG Sphere venues, from conception to execution”, according to New York-based MSG.

The first MSG Sphere, in Las Vegas, is expected to be completed in 2021, with its London sister venue following a year later. MSG submitted its plans for the London sphere in March, revealing it will sit on a 4.7-acre former coach park located on the site of the 2012 Olympic games, and have a seated/standing capacity up to 21,500.

Reed is the first hire for Jennifer Vogt, MSG’s newly appointed president, creative content and productions, who worked with Reed at Disney, including on Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars-themed area at Disneyland in California.

“Our vision for MSG Sphere is to completely revolutionise the entertainment experience and rethink the possibilities for immersive storytelling on a very large scale,” comments Vogt.

“Our vision for MSG Sphere is to completely revolutionise the entertainment experience”

“To do this, we are building a team that includes the industry’s very best talent – who not only have the creative instincts to recognise compelling content, but also the breadth and depth of experience to develop, produce and deliver thought-provoking immersive projects.

“Kristina is that type of leader, and I am thrilled she is joining our team to help make our vision for creating game-changing content for MSG Sphere a reality.”

Kristina Reed joins MSG from Disney Television Animation, where she was vice-president of production, overseeing Disney Channel TV content globally. Previously, she spent seven years at Disney Animation Studios, where she headed up production for Tangled and the Princess and the Frog and development for FrozenZootopia/Zootropolis and Moana, and co-produced the Academy Award-winning Big Hero 6.

Prior to joining Disney, she worked at DreamWorks Animation, where she was a production executive on Shrek 2, Shark Tale and Madagascar and associate producer on Kung Fu Panda.

“The opportunity to create ground-breaking visuals and tell stories on such a powerful platform is irresistible,” she says of her new role. “I’m excited to join this team of passionate creative colleagues, build on the rich legacy of the company and bring the visionary potential of MSG Sphere to life.”

 


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MSG hires head of content for Sphere venues

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) has announced film industry veteran Jennifer Vogt as president of creative content and productions.

In the newly created position, Vogt – most recently show design and production executive for Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars-themed area at Disneyland – will oversee content strategy and development for the state-of-the-art new MSG Sphere entertainment venues in London and Las Vegas.

In addition to heading up the creation of content that will utilise the Spheres’ headline-grabbing range of immersive technology – including wall-to-floor HD screens and spatial sound – Vogt will work alongside the venues’ construction and technology teams to develop a set of tools, called the ‘palette’, that will “make content creation for MSG Sphere an intuitive experience, enabling artists, creators and educators to maximise the potential of the venue’s immersive technologies”, according to MSG.

The first MSG Sphere, in Las Vegas, is expected to completed in 2021, with its London sister venue following a year later. MSG submitted its plans for the London sphere in March, revealing it will sit on a 4.7-acre former coach park located on the site of the 2012 Olympic games, and have a seated/standing capacity up to 21,500.

MSG submits plans for 21,500-cap. Sphere London

Jennifer Vogt will report to MSG president Andrew Lustgarten, who comments: “The success of our vision for MSG Sphere comes down to content: how we will utilise fully immersive experiences on an unprecedented scale to transform the entertainment industry and utterly change the relationship between artist and audience.

“Jennifer’s experience in bringing some of the world’s most complex and high-profile entertainment projects to life make her ideally suited to help us make MSG Sphere a reality.”

“The success of our vision for MSG Sphere comes down to content”

Prior to joining Walt Disney Imagineering, Vogt worked as a management consultant for film studio DreamWorks Animation, where she played a key role in setting up its Chinese division, Oriental DreamWorks (now Pearl Studio). She started her career at her own design company, which worked with major studios to conceive, design and execute over 150 feature films and TV and live theatre shows.

“I am energised by this incredible opportunity,” comments Vogt. “I believe MSG Sphere will revolutionise the entertainment experience through sight and sound, and feel confident that we can take the beloved Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Rockettes to even greater heights while respecting their incredible legacy.

“This is an important time for MSG, and I am deeply honoured to help build on the company’s reputation as a world-leader in entertainment.”

 


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MSG submits plans for 21,500-cap. Sphere London

The Madison Square Garden Company today (27 March) announced it has submitted a planning application to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) for its new music and entertainment venue, MSG Sphere.

Sphere, the US venue giant’s first international property, located in Stratford, east London, was first announced last February, with industry figures invited to explore the arena’s technological innovations – including a fully programmable exterior comprising a ‘skin’ of LED displays, and an interior featuring the largest, highest-resolution media display on the planet and an adaptive sound system that targets individual seats – the following month.

Among other things, the mammoth 244-page planning application reveals MSG Sphere would:

MSG Sphere site, Stratford

While that headline figure of 21,500 bests the official capacity of the O2 – the nearby east London arena operated by MSG rival AEG, which has expressed concerns over the Sphere’s location – by 1,500, IQ understands the Sphere and the O2 would, in practice, have a similar capacity, with 21,500 being the Sphere’s absolute licensable capacity in particular configurations.

MSG says Sphere’s “powerful platform” – in addition to breaking new ground in video and audio, the venue will feature a haptic flooring system that conveys bass through the floor, and 25mbps wireless internet for all guests – would attract a wide variety of content, including concerts, residencies, family shows, corporate events, award ceremonies, product launches and sporting events.

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

These events would be scheduled to run outside rush hour, “to ensure a better travel experience to and from the venue”, while MSG Sphere events that coincide with other shows at surrounding venues (London Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) or busy periods at the Westfield shopping centre would be subject to a combined events plan and crowd management strategy agreed with the venues or Westfield.

Jayne McGivern, MSG’s executive vice-president of development and construction, says: “This is an opportunity to take an inaccessible coach park and use it to support thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds of economic benefit. Our plans make training and local hiring a priority, and would create a premier destination that serves as a long-term investment in the future of Newham, London and the UK.”

Analysis from economic consultancies EY and Volterra, commissioned by MSG, shows that, if approved, MSG Sphere would support up to 3,200 jobs each year across the UK after it opens and up to 4,300 jobs annually during the three-year construction period.

“MSG Sphere will complement London’s existing venues and drive overall growth in the music and entertainment market”

EY also estimates that, once open, MSG Sphere would generate £2.7 billion in positive UK economic impact (gross value added) over a 20-year period, £2.5bn of it in London. This includes more than £50m in revenue every year for local businesses in the venue’s local authority, Newham.

It is unclear whether AEG will appeal the planning application, although a spokesperson says it will be “scrutinising [it] very carefully”. “It is imperative that Madison Square Garden’s proposals do not add to congestion in the area, especially on the Jubilee line, which is critical for the movement of guests to and from the O2 arena,” they continue.

“AEG always strives to ensure that its guests have the best possible experience when they visit our venues and we will work with local stakeholders to scrutinise the application in detail and ensure MSG’s plans do not affect this.”

“If our plans are approved,” concludes MSG’s McGivern, “we believe MSG Sphere will complement London’s existing venues and drive overall growth in the music and entertainment market, benefiting residents, artists and fans.”

“We welcome any project that brings jobs and economic growth to east London”

Responding to MSG’s application for planning permission, Gareth Bacon AM, chairman of London Assembly’s budget and performance committee, says: “This venue would be a very welcome boost to the local area economically. It will also give a helping hand to LLDC’s finances.

“It’s great to hear that almost seven years on, the Olympic legacy is still alive. The creation of jobs for Londoners, especially those in the Newham area, is an important part of this. East London is already known to be a hub for creatives, so plans for a venue like this should sit nicely with the existing cultural fabric of the area.

“We will be watching the LLDC closely to ensure that this proposal is the right one for the area, but we welcome any project that brings jobs and economic growth to east London.”

 

 


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MSG Next Generation Tour aims to inspire young Londoners

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) today launched the MSG Next Generation Tour, which aims to inspire young people living in east London, near its upcoming MSG Sphere London arena, to consider careers in music and live entertainment.

The launch event, which took place at Here East in Stratford’s Olympic Park, featured a performance by UK act Nothing But Thieves and was attended by students from Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc).

The tour – which will also visit schools across east London from today (19 November) to Friday 23 November – is led by Glen Rowe, Muse’s former tour manager, who recently retired to set up NEKO Trust, a charity aiming to nurture the next generation of artists and road crew.

Young people taking part will hear from some of the industry’s most experienced tour managers, production crews and technical specialists, including Rowe, Liz Daisley (Glastonbury, Boomtown, Secret Garden Party) and sound designer Nigel Glasgow, about their career journeys and paths into the industry.

Rowe comments: “I love the MSG Next Generation Tour because it opens doors for people who probably don’t know they exist. I’ve spent the last 25 years touring around the world with various different bands, and it’s now time to pass the baton on to the next generation to do what I did – possibly at MSG Sphere London– and to have as much fun.”

“We want to inspire the next generation of talented young people in east London to think about a career in music and live events”

While still subject to planning approval, MSG London – based on the company’s spectacular Sphere concept, which will also be used for a new arena in Las Vegas – is anticipated to be located on a site purchased by MSG directly east of the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London. It is projected to have a capacity of more than 18,000 when it opens in around 2022.

Jayne McGivern, MSG’s executive vice-president for construction and development, comments: “We want to inspire the next generation of talented young people in east London to think about a career in music and live events, and that’s why we’ve created the MSG Next Generation Tour.

“If approved, MSG Sphere London will create exciting jobs on the doorsteps of the young people we’re speaking to. But students don’t need to wait for MSG Sphere – music and live entertainment is a large and growing industry that generates billions of pounds for the UK economy, and thousands of interesting career opportunities.”

Speaking at the launch today, Dom Craik, Nothing But Thieves’ guitarist, said: “When we’re performing on stage what you don’t see is the huge team behind the scenes that help us. I think it’s incredible that during the MSG Next Generation Tour people will get to hear about all the jobs you can do besides being a singer, guitarist or drummer on stage.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if our future tour manager or sound engineer was here in the audience today?”

 


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New 13,000-cap. arena coming to London?

As London’s stadia flex their music muscles and MSG continues to develop its groundbreaking Sphere, it has emerged that Europe’s live music capital could soon be home to another major new entertainment venue.

According to local media, the Linford Christie Outdoor Sports Centre – a stadium and community sports facility on Wormwood Scrubs, near East Acton, and home to the Thames Valley Harriers athletics club and PHC Chiswick hockey team – is slated as the site for a new 13,000-capacity performance venue, under council plans for the regeneration of the area, dubbed ‘Project Bolt’.

According to the Evening Standard, Hammersmith and Fulham borough council has appointed Populous – the designer of London’s Olympic Stadium, as well as MSG Sphere London – to explore masterplans for the Linford Christie stadium site, which could include an “event/performance venue”.

The proposed arena could either be “integrated with a community stadium” or a standalone structure, says Populous, in documents seen by the Standard.

The Acton venue’s capacity of 13,000 would make it slightly larger than AEG’s 12,500-cap. SSE Arena Wembley but put it behind the O2 in Greenwich (21,000-cap.) and the planned MSG Sphere in Stratford (believed to be in the region of 18,000).

“We have asked a masterplan architect to draw up options”

A Hammersmith and Fulham spokesperson describes the council’s subsidies to the sports stadium are “unsustainable” and says it has instructed “a masterplan architect [Populous] to draw up options”.

The spokesperson adds that the council is also still talking to Queens Park Rangers football club, which confirmed last year it had held “informal talks” with the local authority about the possibility of building a new stadium on Wormwood Scrubs.

The council’s plans for the Linford Christie site come amid a busy period for London’s live music market. In addition to MSG Sphere (for which Madison Square Garden Company hopes to have submitted a planning application by this autumn), many of London’s sports stadia bulked up their music programming in 2018: Twickenham Stadium told IQ in March that this summer’s shows by the Rolling Stones and Eminem are the beginning of a new era of concerts at the venue, while Wembley Stadium and London Stadium in Stratford hosted shows by Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift and Jay-Z/Beyoncé and Foo Fighters, respectively.

Tottenham Hotspur FC – which played at Wembley in 2017–18 – has additionally announced plans to bring concerts and “other major events” to its new stadium in north London, due to open this month.

 


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