Commentators from across live entertainment and beyond have been reacting to this week’s news that plans for an MSG Sphere in London have been abandoned.
In a letter to London’s Planning Inspectorate, Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment said it could not continue to participate in a process that was “merely a political football between rival parties”.
The decision has generated a polarisation of opinions – which has been the case with the project since plans were first announced more than five years ago. MSG Sphere London was given the go ahead last year, but in November Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, ruled against the venue because it “would result in an unacceptable negative impact on local residents”. While a stay was put on the decision, MSG called time on the project at the start of 2024.
Sphere abandonment is a ‘significant blow’
Robin Sherry, CEO and co-founder of Seat Unique, was among those to express their disappointment at the decision.
“The death of the MSG Sphere in the UK deals a significant blow to fans, the live events industry, and the economy,” Sherry said. “Attendance at live events has soared, with last year’s ticket sales for Beyonce and Taylor Swift’s UK tours even helping steer the country away from a recession. Today, people are looking to spend money on unforgettable live experiences, not material goods.
This missed opportunity is significant. The benefits of arenas like this can be felt up and down the country, from creating new fanbases to fuelling new job opportunities and the economy. However, we’re burdened by unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.
“We can’t sit on the sidelines when it comes to the experience economy this year. Local and national governments must prioritise innovation and investment in this domain. This involves working closely with local communities and at a national level to demonstrate how projects like this can create genuine opportunities for everyone involved.
“The Sphere shouldn’t have become a political bargaining chip; it’s an important stake in the UK’s thriving future in live events and hospitality.”
Others from across a range of industries were also frustrated by the decision and for a variety of reasons.
‘This would have put London on the map’
Meir Kojman of ME Engineers, which was part of the team that delivered the Las Vegas Sphere, was critical of the process and Mayor Khan’s role in the stalling of the project. He said: “Throughout the long process the plans had responded to every single concern around light pollution, environmental impact, carbon, energy and more, and if you read the extensive reports that were part of the planning application, you will see that the proposals would not have made the light pollution situation any worse than what is currently there – given the train tracks, the stadium and the shopping centre: none of which were subject to the very strict hours of operation or brightness restrictions that the sphere would have been subject to under its agreed planning conditions. I wonder if the mayor even read any of it?! I don’t see how he could have!
“This would have been one of the most epic buildings in the country, and even the world. A demonstration of what is technologically possible and would have put London on the map for live entertainment and technology.”
Peter I’anson of SecureMyBooking said: “It’s unfortunate that a venue that will expand tourism and create jobs is being rejected but London has become more anti-business over the years. Now Manchester will have two arenas and London will have one.”
Dan Reeves, a venue recruitment specialist, added: “It offered something extremely unique and an experience that goes beyond what is already available. I’m sure some people would argue though that an in-your face venue like The Sphere is better suited to somewhere like Vegas, rather than London.”
Business leader Paul Drechsler, currently the chair of ICC UK, said: “This feels like a loss for London; the best global capital city for Arts & Culture.”
Khan did ‘the right thing’
Of course, not everyone supported the prospect of London playing host to a Sphere venue.
A campaign against the project was, as one might expect, delighted that MSG had abandoned its plans:
Now we really can say HAPPY NEW YEAR and good riddance to #MSGSphere.
MSG have withdrawn their application.
Thank you again to all who objected to it and campaigned against it.
And to @MayorofLondon for doing the right thing in rejecting it.
— Stop MSG Sphere London (@StopMSGSphere) January 8, 2024
Sean O’Callaghan, a lighting specialist at Martin Professional, said: “An impressive structure but I can’t say that this will be a loss to the London skyline.”
Evan Troxel, an architect and director of operations at TRXL Media, said: “Seems like people are very concerned about the exterior for good reasons. The additional use cases that were exhibited at the F1 race and other events has been very interesting to watch from a media and entertainment standpoint. The interior experience is really where it’s at though.”
Another looked at the unsightliness of the Sphere beaming across a city where some struggle to pay their energy bills. “You would have to have political support for a big energy-hungry light ball in a country that has an estimated 6 million households living in what’s termed fuel poverty,” said digital signage expert Dave Haynes.