It’s a couple of pandemic years behind schedule, but on July 5th The Sphere was lit up for the first time, changing the Las Vegas skyline forever. But that was just a tease, and next month, on September 29, The Sphere will be opened in its full glory by U2 – with the band’s first live performance anywhere in the world in nearly four years.
This is really big, literally, figuratively and as a tourism attraction.
After 30 odd years of covering the development of Las Vegas, I thought I’d seen it all, and the one thing I’ve learned is that there is always something newer, bigger, brasher, more imaginative – and more bizarre – just around the corner. 2023 is an especially epic year here, and just between now and the end of the year – always punctuated by the nation’s largest New Year’s Eve fireworks display – there is going to be the new F1 race, almost certainly the most attended event in the city’s history (read more here), and the debut of a rare all-new from the ground up mega casino resort, the Fontainebleau. But huge casinos and huge sporting events are nothing new in Sin City, while there has never been anything like The Sphere at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas – or anyplace else on earth.
Five years and $2+ billion in the making, this new venue is the most expensive entertainment undertaking in the city’s history – substantially more than the still new state of the art Allegiant Stadium, host of the 2024 Super Bowl. In a city that loves superlatives, it is the largest spherical structure in the world (in Vegas contrast, the Luxor casino hotel is “just” the third tallest pyramid on the planet; while the observation deck at the Eiffel Tower at Paris’s casino resort sits an impressive 46 stories high, it’s only half the size of the real thing in real Paris; the High Roller Observation Wheel is the tallest in North America at 550 feet but still a far second to Dubai’s 820 foot monster).
Developed by the Madison Square Garden Company, it was originally called the MSG Sphere, but it is partnered with the adjacent Venetian – fittingly the city’s largest resort, with more than 7000 rooms (all of the suites!) – on land the casino owned.
The Sphere is 516 feet wide, 366 feet tall and will seat 17,600 people, with floor standing room bringing the total up to 20,000. With an unbelievably sophisticated sound system, it is primarily a big-time concert venue, and immediately takes its place among the most desirable spots to see live music in the world. But The Sphere also plans to host boxing, mixed martial arts, wrestling and E-sports competitions on its stage.
Inside and out, the skin of the Sphere is giant LED screen, or as they call it, a “Vivid Canvas.” For fans inside, this presents itself as an immersive display wrapping up, over and around the audience, letting the acts on stage accompany their performances with ultra-dramatic videos and images. It’s not just another 4D high-resolution screen, it claims to be the highest resolution LED screen in the world. Then there’s the sound – every single seat has its own sound system and is equipped with haptic technology (which creates the experience of touch with forces or vibrations) so every fan can literally “feel” the show. The sound itself is delivered through 3D audio beamforming and wave field synthesis (whatever that is, as a lot of the technology is new and was developed just for The Sphere) on a scale never before attempted, with 1,600 permanently installed matrix array loudspeaker modules, 300 more that are moveable to customize sound to each performance, and 167,000 individually amplified loudspeaker drivers.
It’s hard to imagine what attending a concert will be like inside, except that it looks like it will be different from all other concerts. But you don’t have to enjoy music or ever set foot inside The Sphere to experience and appreciate its impact on Las Vegas.
The exterior “canvas” spans almost 600,000 square feet and they can project pretty much anything they want on it, even airplanes taking off from the airport behind it as if The Sphere was transparent. The exterior went live on July 5th with an elaborate “fireworks” display and then transitioned through various vivid scenes, including underwater images, to demonstrate its awesome visual capabilities. It has since been taking social media by storm with jaw dropping images like a giant Sphere-sized eyeball. So, while the Sphere is a concert venue on one hand, it also joins the likes of the Bellagio Fountains and Mirage Volcano as yet another live free “show” on the Strip, and is expected to project an ever-changing menu of visuals daily and nightly – to the point where the public display warrants its own name, the Exosphere. During the F1 race, it will display race related content in the biggest and most visible way imaginable and millions of race fans around the world will see The Sphere through their own much smaller screens.
The Sphere opens on September 29th with U2’s first ever Las Vegas residency, U2: UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere. It was originally 17 shows, but unprecedented demand for tickets led them to add eight more, so the band will now perform 25 nights, from opening day through December 16. No other music has been announced, but the current hot rumor in town is that The Eagles farewell tour will take up residency here next. In addition to all the high-tech regular seats, there are 23 VIP suites, clubs, and food and beverage service and venues operated by Tao Group, which already has several Vegas and global hotspots.
The Edge, lead guitarist for U2, said, “The beauty of Sphere is not only the ground-breaking technology that will make it so unique, with the world’s most advanced audio system integrated into a structure which is designed with sound quality as a priority; it’s also the possibilities around immersive experiences in real and imaginary landscapes. In short, it’s a canvas of an unparalleled scale and image resolution, and a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We all thought about it and decided we’d be mad not to accept the invitation.”