If you walk down the Las Vegas Strip you’re greeted by Betty Willis’s “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, the 1,000-foot-tall Stratosphere Tower, extravagantly designed casino hotel after casino hotel, and more. Now there’s a new landmark on the scene: the 366-foot-tall and 516-foot-wide Sphere. The glowing globe is an entertainment venue slash billboard from Madison Square Garden Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands Corp. The exterior of the rounded structure is encased in 580,00 square feet of LED screen—fittingly named the Exosphere—which, according to its developers, makes it the “largest LED screen on earth.”
The sphere, located just east of The Venetian hotel, was designed by Populous and can host up to 18,000 spectators. The Sphere has several performances and graphic takeovers booked for the remainder of the year, including a concert headlined by U2 and a film by Darren Aronofsky featuring footage from all seven continents.
“The Exosphere is more than a screen or a billboard—it is living architecture, and unlike anything that exists anywhere in the world. Last night’s show provided a glimpse of the Exosphere’s captivating power, and the possibilities for artists, partners, and brands to create compelling and impactful stories to connect with audiences in new ways,” Senior Vice President of Brand Strategy and Creative Development for the Sphere Guy Barnett said.
The lit-up graphic displays are made possible with 1.2 million LED pucks spaced eight inches apart; within each puck are 48 individual LED diodes that are able to display 256 million colors. Lighting up the structure involved coordination among a team of technology, software, and production experts, including Sphere Studios, SACO Technologies, and 7thSense.
In its debut displays the Exosphere mirrored Earth, briefly turned into the surface of the moon, and flashed fireworks, a rendition of the U.S. flag, and a geodesic pattern, just to name a few. Since its initial showings the Sphere has been decked out as a hyperrealistic blinking eye and a spinning basketball to promote the 2024 NBA Summer League.
On the internet, spectators poked fun at the design photoshopping their own visuals as wraps on the structure. One Twitter user gave it the Windows computer error message screen while another likened it to a sleeping version of the antagonists in Disney’s The Incredibles.
— MSG Sphere (@MSGSphere) July 11, 2023
BREAKING: The Sphere has crashed pic.twitter.com/BMsx79O38K
— Mark Kretschmann (@mark_k) July 6, 2023
— kris (@krislynn_king) July 6, 2023
Work on the Sphere broke ground in 2018, just months after it was publicly announced, and has suffered its share of construction hiccups. MSG named construction giant AECOM General Contractor to the project in 2019. The firm was later dropped from the job, perhaps due to the higher-than-anticipated cost estimate. In May 2023, the total cost estimate was placed at $2.3 billion, far above an initial projection of $1.2 billion. On top of that, three years into its construction, in August 2021, a noose was found on a beam at the construction site.
As the venue readies its 160,000-square-foot interiors for shows and performances, the word on the street is that MSG has its sights set on a site in Stratford in London to construct a spherical arena there, despite claims it would bring unwanted light and noise pollution. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, light and noise pollution are amenities, not liabilities, for speculative entertainment venues.