Vegas MSG Sphere Lights Up for First Time

FRIDAY, JULY 28, 2023

Earlier this month, the new MSG Sphere in Las Vegas lit up for the first time, after a series of construction price hikes due to inflation and supply chain delays doubled the estimated project cost.

According to a report from Construction Dive, the $2.3 billion facility—originally estimated to cost $1.2 billion—is now the world’s largest spherical structure, at 516 feet wide and 366 feet tall. The Sphere’s most notable feature is its fully programmable 580,000 square foot LED exterior. It reportedly has a capacity for 17,600 seated spectators, with standing room for an additional 20,000 people.

Project Background

The project broke ground in September 2018, as a collaboration between the Madison Square Garden Company and Las Vegas Sands Corp., along with designs from Populous. MSG selected AECOM as the general contractor in June 2019.

The technology behind the 350-foot-tall, 500-foot-diameter sphere was originally unveiled in February 2018. The sphere’s interior will have a digital display plane of 170,000 square feet, making it the largest and highest resolution LED display plane in the world, according to officials.

Officials at the time touted “beamformed” technology for the sound transmission—enabled by thousands of tiny speakers embedded into the venue walls—that will give the same sound clarity for people in the back as those in the front.

In February 2020, the world’s fourth-largest crawler crane arrived onsite from Belgium to aid in the sphere’s construction. The crane, dubbed the DEMAG CC-8800, can extend 580 feet high and weighs 869 tons. The crane can also rotate 360 degrees. After being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, it reportedly took 120 tractor-trailers to deliver the crane and then 18 days to assemble it.

In August, officials confirmed a new construction schedule for the DEMAG, which included three main tasks: superstructure concrete work, structural steel and the building of the steel-domed roof.

In October, MSG Entertainment confirmed that a pair of steel girders (a combined 240 tons) were put into place. The girders span the length of the venue’s stage and support the structure’s 13,000-ton steel-domed roof—the heaviest lift of the project.

The two girders were reportedly formed by placing two pairs of 100-ton steel tubs on top of one another. The bottom halves of each girder were set in place a month prior by the crawler crane. After that, concrete was pumped to the bottom of the tubs, followed by another tub lifted into place, creating a hollow cavity. To finish, the cavities were filled with more concrete.

According to reports, the girders and concrete are vital to the structure’s foundational support.

At the end of 2020, some contracts on the project shifted, as MSG Entertainment Co. announced that it was taking over construction management duties from general contractor AECOM as the company had transitioned from its role as general contractor with a new services agreement that facilitates involvement with the Sphere through the project’s completion.

In February 2021, construction of the Sphere reached a milestone with the completion of the 100-foot-diameter steel ring at the top of the structure. In order to position the giant piece, crews reportedly spent almost a month assembling it on the ground before using the DEMAG CC-8800 crane to hoist it into place.

That summer, construction crews held a “topping out” ceremony to celebrate the completion of the globular venue’s steel frame as work advanced on the exosphere framework for the 580,000 square feet of lights.

Some months later, in October 2021, project leaders announced that construction on the domed roof would reach completion that fall. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, construction crews completed the installation of metal decking and rebar atop the skeletal dome the month prior and were preparing to pour roughly 13,000 tons of concrete to fill out the structure.

At the time, crews had already completed installing paneling along the lower hemisphere of the structure and had nearly completed installing insulated metal panel wrapping around the project’s exterior facade.

Additional ongoing work at the time included affixing sheet metal to the insulated metal, as well as installing the insulated paneling along the top half. Project leaders planned to finish the roof concrete, the venue’s exterior facade and continue building out the interior and a pedestrian bridge over the following year.

The following year, it was announced that Florida-based coatings contractor Champion Painting Specialty Services Corp. joined the construction team. Known for its work in heavy construction and industrial sectors, Champion has also worked on various stadiums, airports and military initiatives. Last year, JPCL covered Champion’s work on the Throgs Neck Bridge in New York City.

Other notable projects in Champion’s portfolio include New York-based projects such as George Washington Bridge, Goethals Bridge, and Verrazano Narrows Bridge, in addition to the Miami Dolphins and Miami Marlins stadiums and the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

According to reports at the time, contract details regarding the MSG Sphere were not disclosed by Champion.

Construction Price Hikes

At the end of last year, according to the company’s fiscal 2023 first-quarter earnings report, the cost for the project has increased by 9% to nearly $2.18 billion. Previously, the entertainment venue was anticipated to total $1.9 billion.

While MSG Entertainment officials had reported in February last year that the project was able to dodge ongoing supply chain issues, these concerns were one of several reasons the project witnessed a rise in its project cost estimates.

Additional impacts on price include inflation and the overall complexity of the project itself, which caused the construction team to “refine a third” of design plans. These plans were primarily in relation to the project’s build-out of the exosphere and the venue’s interior spaces.

Despite this, in May, officials noted that the costs have once again increased to $2.3 billion, including core technology and soft costs, from the prior estimate of $2.18 billion.

Billboard reported that company officials cited the “overall complexity of the project” for the current increase while noting they had made “significant progress,” including completing the LED installation on the Exosphere earlier in the third quarter, that will allow the venue to make dramatic design and appearance changes at the push of a button. Company officials have also made significant progress building out the venue’s interior spaces, including the suites and hospitality areas, the filing states.

Sphere Opening, Upcoming Events

The venue is anticipated to open on September 29, kicking off with a five-week, 17-performance run from rock band U2. A “first-of-its-kind immersive film production” titled “Postcard from Earth” will also be debuted in October, reportedly designed to show off the venue’s technologies.

The MSG Sphere will also reportedly host a variety of events and concerts, including Sphere Experiences, events with content specifically designed for the venue’s 4D display capabilities.

In November, the Sphere will be prominently featured during the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix. According to MSG Entertainment, the exosphere will feature race-related content, activations and advertising.

In between events, MSG reports the exosphere will reportedly display a wide range of artistic and branded content daily.


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