MSG Sphere at The Venetian will focus on entertainment, not sports

It’s easy to think of the MSG sphere at The Venetian as a sports arena.

Following last week’s 366-foot groundbreaking ceremony at a project site east of the Venetian Expo, I received emails and phone calls asking if this new 17,500-seat venue could be home to an NBA franchise.

It won’t.

Due to the structure’s spherical shape – its widest point is 516 feet – from the outside, it might look like there is seating around the central point, like the T-Mobile Arena or Thomas & Mack Center. Instead, the seating is on one side of the building, spanning about two-thirds, with the seats facing the stage.

The misconception is compounded by the fact that the builder, Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp., owns and operates Madison Square Garden, home of the NBA’s New York Knicks and NHL’s New York Rangers.

The Sphere just won’t work like a basketball arena – unless you enjoy watching basketball being played on stage.

Lucas Watson, president of MSG Sphere, left little room for the building to be used as a sports arena, saying it could host boxing, wrestling or mixed martial arts matches, or possibly esports tournaments.

The latter seems the most plausible with all the technology that the $1.9 billion MSG Sphere will offer when the doors open at the end of 2023.

Among the features of the Sphere will be a 160,000-square-foot display plane – roughly the size of three football fields – spanning behind, above and around stadium-style seating. The HD screen will have a resolution 82 times better than today’s TV screens.

According to MSG, the sound system will deliver crystal-clear audio – headphone-free audio quality. The audience will be surrounded by 160,000 speakers with an infrasound haptic system, which means you can feel the deep bass.

The Sphere will have the world’s largest beamforming sound system, which means sound can be directed into the interior of a building in the same way that laser light can be focused to a precise location. This means that for presentations such as a product launch, a group of English speaking participants can sit in one area and a group of Spanish speaking participants in another, and audio can be routed to each group without using a headset.

During a tour of the building last week, before the opening ceremony, MSG executives took members of the media to a temporary platform between the sixth and seventh floors of the building to view the stage from above. We were then taken to the stage to see the performer’s point of view.

MSG officials haven’t revealed many details about which performers will be coming to Sphere, but imagine the possibilities given all of Madison Square Garden’s relationships with performers from all over the world. MSG is betting that artists will want to make Sphere one of their tour stops.

Options could include residencies and one-off concerts for performers that could fill the 20,000-seat hall. There is space for an additional 2,500 people for temporary seating or standing.

With live performances, Hollywood filmmakers are already working on creating entertainment events that will use huge screens and a high-tech sound system for brand new presentations. Think of it as one of those dome-shaped planetarium presentations on a much larger scale, where the audience is immersed in a vast audiovisual fantasy land.

So don’t think of the Sphere as a sports arena.

It will be much more than that.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. To follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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