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.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
‘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’.
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.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
MSG reveals high-tech London venue plans
London is to get a striking new large-scale music and entertainment venue courtesy of Madison Square Garden Company (MSG), its first outside the US, IQ can reveal. The venue will be based on the groundbreaking MSG Sphere concept unveiled yesterday in New York and LA.
MSG Sphere – which will debut at the American venue giant’s new 18,000-seat arena in Las Vegas when it breaks ground this June – aims “to make concertgoers part of the experience” through what MSG describes as “game-changing technologies that push the limits of connectivity, acoustics, video and content distribution”.
High-tech innovations include a sound system that individually targets each seat, ensuring everyone hears the same performance, no matter their location, and – most strikingly – ultra-HD video screens that stretch across venue’s walls and ceilings, enveloping attendees in an immersive visual experience. The Vegas venue will also feature high-speed internet at every seat, allowing concertgoers to share their experience on social media and enabling interactive experiences with artists.
While the London venue is still in the early stages of planning, with no concrete details on capacity or design, the company confirms it will be based on the MSG Sphere concept.
MSG Sphere London will be located next to the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London, near the site of the 2012 Olympic games.
Madison Square Garden Company – which has long been rumoured to have an interest in London, and was believed to be in the running to buy the Olympia before its acquisition by German investors in April – has purchased nearly five acres of land in the area on which to construct the venue, says MSG CEO James Dolan.
“London is one of the world’s greatest cities, and we are delighted to be taking this first step towards making it the location for MSG’s first international venue,” he says.
The project will be overseen by Jayne McGivern, who joined MSG as executive vice-president, development and construction. McGivern’s previous executive roles have included spells as UK managing director of AEG and CEO of leading contractor Multiplex Europe, which built the new Wembley Stadium.
“We believe that a large-scale, next-generation venue will not only become a premier destination, but also drive growth in London’s overall music and entertainment market,” continues Dolan, “benefiting artists and fans and serving as a long-term investment in the future of this incredible city. MSG Sphere will provide a home where like-minded communities can come together to not only interact with the performance, but also with each other.”
“London is one of the world’s greatest cities, and we are delighted to be taking this first step towards making it the location for MSG’s first international venue”
Preliminary analysis by Ernst & Young shows MSG Sphere London will create approximately 3,200 new jobs annually, contribute £2.7bn to the UK economy over the initial 20 years of operations and generate additional revenues of more than £50m every year for local businesses.
McGivern tells IQ that since the closure of Earls Court (20,000-cap.) in 2014, London has been “underserved by big arenas” – a statement backed up by research undertaken by Sound Diplomacy which found London, Europe’s live music capital, has fewer large arenas relative to population size than other major cities, including Paris, Berlin, Madrid and New York.
Plans for a new arena in east London raise the prospect of an escalation of the much-publicised ‘venue war’ between MSG and The O2 operator AEG, although McGivern says MSG is focused on “growing the market” rather than taking market share from other operators. “It’s absolutely an opportunity to grow the market in London,” she explains. “Whenever we see new venues popping up, the market grows with them – just look at the Forum in LA.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, says MSG’s confidence in the UK capital is further testament to London’s status as a “music powerhouse”. “From intimate grassroots music venues to spectacular arenas, London’s buzzing live music scene is world renowned,” he comments. “It’s great to welcome another world-class venue to the capital, to confirm London’s position as a music powerhouse and to boost still further our city’s thriving night-time economy.”
“It’s great news that the world-famous Madison Square Garden Company has chosen London to be home for its first international venue,” adds Britain’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Matt Hancock. “This cements both the capital and UK’s reputation for leading the world in music and the creative industries.
“This groundbreaking arena in east London will not only create jobs, but help us continue to develop incredible artists, music and innovative technology that will give fans an amazing experience.”
In addition to its plans to build in London and Las Vegas, MSG’s venues include its flagship 20,000-cap. Madison Square Garden venue in New York, along with the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, California; the Chicago Theatre; and the Wang Theatre in Boston.