James Dolan's sketch of the Sphere becomes reality as the venue opens with a U2 show in Las Vegas

It started as a crude sketch — a circle with a stick person inside

Jonathan Landrum Jr,Ken Ritter
Friday 29 September 2023 18:19 BST

It started as a crude sketch — a circle with a stick person inside. Seven years later, that drawing has been made real: A $2.3 billion massive spherical venue standing 366 feet high and lighting up the Las Vegas skyline.

The drawing was initially made by James Dolan, the executive chairman of Madison Square Garden and owner of the New York Knicks and Rangers. He and MSG Ventures CEO David Dibble were trying to create a plan to give the entertainment venue industry a facelift in Las Vegas.

Both experimented with different shapes for the structure — such as a muffin, a box and even a pyramid - until Dolan drew a circle with a stick person inside on a notebook. At that moment, the Sphere was born.

Now, Dolan’s vision will come into fruition when U2’s “UV Achtung Baby” residency kicks off the opening of his high-tech, globe-shaped venue in Las Vegas on Friday night.

“It really is a new medium,” said Dolan, speaking to the media during a walkthrough Thursday. "When you’re in the Sphere, you don’t get told what to look at. The audience decides what they want to focus on.”

Inside the 516-feet wide Sphere, a high resolution LED screen wraps halfway around the 17,500-seat audience. The venue is equipped with thousands of speakers that will deliver a “crystal-clear” multi-layered 160,000 audio system for every seat inside.

The venue features an array of technology attractions including five interactive humanoid robots named Aura.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Dibble, who framed Dolan’s Sphere drawing after carrying the picture in his backpack. “Everything from our audio and networking system, visual displays, camera systems stored — it’s all required to deliver an effective Sphere experience.”

The state-of-the-art venue has become a traffic stopper — especially at night. It drew immediate attention on July 4th with a digital fireworks display, an eyeball that appeared to scan the horizon with the words “Hello World.”

Along with U2’s 25-show residency, the venue will next week offer a custom production titled “Postcard from Earth” by film director Darren Aronofsky.

Tourists and air travelers have also the orb light up with the likeness of the Earth or Moon, bouncing basketballs and art designs. The characters from the upcoming animated film “Trolls Band Together” have appeared on its LED exterior and it trumpeted the release of NSYNC's new single “Better Place,” a song on the movie's soundtrack.

“That’s cool,” said Glenn NP Nowak, an architecture professor at the nearby University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “It’s like words don’t do it justice.”

The Sphere resembles the Spaceship Earth attraction at Walt Disney World’s Epcot theme park in Florida. Its design also draws comparisons to the Montreal Biosphere museum in Canada and Avicii Arena in Sweden.

It doesn’t tower over the Strip like the 520-foot High Roller observation wheel that casino giant Caesars Entertainment opened in 2014, or the 1,149-foot tower at the Strat Hotel & Casino that opened in 1996.

However, the Sphere is the most expensive entertainment venue built in Las Vegas, eclipsing the approximately $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium sports facility that opened in 2020.

“There is hype around this,” added Nowak, who toured the structure with his students at various phases while it was being built. “I think that’s part of the reason people don’t necessarily understand what they’ve just seen.”

Beyond a structure that Nowak called an “engineering marvel,” he noted its cutting-edge position as an attraction in an emerging Las Vegas "experience economy.”

Each year, Las Vegas has lured more than 40 million people into an area known for gambling, nightlife, spas, entertainment shows and fine dining. Most normally arrive by air at the Harry Reid International Airport, which handled nearly 53 million passengers in 2022.

“This was the perfect market,” Dolan said. “This marketplace is about growth. They welcome the notion of putting a big, huge spherical light bulb thing in the middle of it. This market loves light, it loves shows, the entertainment. The Sphere is all about those things. The government here was welcoming and encouraging.”

The project started as a partnership with casino company Las Vegas Sands, the owner of the Venetian and Palazzo resort towers on the Las Vegas Strip, which donated the property. Now the 35-story Venetian and 50-story Palazzo, with more than 7,000 rooms combined, advertise birds-eye guest room views of the Sphere.

Dolan said casino owners initially thought the venue would be a “regular 'ol arena.”

“The casino owners were concerned about getting boxed out of entertainment, so they had to have their own venue,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, we told them it's not going to be a regular arena. They really embraced the concept.”

Dolan believes many others will embrace the Sphere, which he hopes to expand all over the world. He believes London could be the next landing spot with the hopes of someday building one in New York.

But for now, Dolan is focused on proving that the Sphere is the real deal. “I feel good about what we built,” he said. “I feel like it's going to be a success. The people are going to love it. I'm not as anxious as I used to be.”

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