James Dolan’s Sphere Looms Large in Las Vegas

The venue set to open in September is the newest project from the MSG Entertainment CEO.

A monumental sphere some thirty stories tall has taken over Sin City. Sometimes it’s a gargantuan basketball. Sometimes it’s an animated earth as seen at night from space. And recently, it loomed in the skyline in the guise of an anatomically correct eyeball keeping watch over the strip. These and other vividly realistic illuminations are stopping traffic across the city as locals and tourists pause to take in Sphere, the city’s newest venue and the world’s largest spherical structure.

Gigantic illuminated basketball shown down Las Vegas city street
A view of Sphere on July 9, 2023. AFP via Getty Images

The massive project is the brainchild of James Dolan, who heads venues like Madison Square Garden and sports franchises including the New York Knicks and New York Rangers. While Sphere began lighting up its omnidirectional 580,000-square-foot external LED screen earlier this month, the entertainment venue won’t let visitors inside until September.

If all goes well, another Sphere may be coming to a city near you.

Dolan is the chairman and CEO of the dome’s parent company, Sphere Entertainment, and MSG Entertainment, the latter of which oversees businesses like MSG and the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular. Well-known for his controversial business moves, Dolan made headlines recently for his contentious relationship with the New York State Liquor Authority and his controversial use of facial recognition technology at venues to bar the entry of attorneys involved in litigation against his companies.

Dolan is the “visionary” behind Sphere, according to Sphere Entertainment. After pouring $2.3 billion into the project, Dolan unveiled his plans for the venue’s innovative and multi-sensory technology in 2018.

The external display of Sphere, known as the “Exosphere,” is the world’s largest and highest resolution LED screen—so large it can be seen from space. Inside Sphere, there is another 160,000-square-foot LED media plane accompanied by immersive audio coming from 164,000 speakers and seating for 17,000 visitors. The experience it will offer is reportedly immersive, with haptic vibrations, changing temperatures, scents and compressed air that mimics wind.

“Obviously if you are in the polar ice cap, you have to feel cold; you have to see the glacier,” he said at the time of the unveiling. “That is essentially what we are building: an attempt to convince you that you are somewhere else.”

Four photos showing giant illuminated sphere displaying jack-o-lantern, eyeball, American flag and futuristic stairs
The MSG Sphere has displayed various animations over the past few weeks. Getty Images

Sphere will officially launch in September with a series of shows by U2, followed by an October production from Darren Aronofsky, the director behind films such as The Whale and Black Swan. Tickets for both shows range from $49 to $199. “I see Sphere as a great opportunity to pluck people from the bling and thrum of the Vegas strip in all its human constructed madness and immerse them as fully as possible in the wonder, awe, and beauty of the natural world,” said Aronofsky in a statement.

The venue will also be involved in Formula One’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix in November and is in “active discussions with a number of iconic artists for residencies,” said David Byrnes, executive vice president of MSG Entertainment, during a February earnings call. Sphere, which contains 23 VIP suites and several other hospitality areas, also plans to display daily animations consisting of branded content, promotions for local events and “rituals” like sunrises and sunsets through its Exosphere.

The dome-shaped entertainment venue recently sent camera equipment to the International Space Station to capture data and imagery for new camera systems at Sphere. Sphere Entertainment also launched the content studio Sphere Studios in June, which will focus solely on further developing technology for Sphere using a quarter-sized replica of its LED display screen.

What are the reactions to Sphere?

While some social media users have lauded the engineering behind the venue and its mesmerizing visuals, others have had more mixed reactions to the dazzling new dome. According to one Twitter user, Sphere’s ultra-bright and at times bizarre illuminations are located directly across from the Wynn Golf Club. Another lamented the spherical structure’s potential for light pollution, while others criticized its effect on Las Vegas traffic.

 

But the negative feedback likely won’t affect the creation of future Spheres, which Dolan hopes to turn into a go-to venue for live entertainment in several more cities. A second Sphere is already in the works in Stratford, London, where MSG Entertainment purchased land in 2018 specifically for a future Sphere.

James Dolan’s Sphere Looms Large in Las Vegas