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Is the Sphere a money-maker? Jury still out on financial success

Updated January 15, 2024 - 1:21 pm

It’s hard to tell whether Sphere has finally found some financial footing in Las Vegas after a full quarter of operations.

Company officials aren’t commenting about how many people have seen shows and how much revenue has been generated at the massive $2.3 billion performance venue that has been the talk of the town since it started glowing on the Fourth of July.

Sphere Entertainment Co. is expected to report earnings in early February. In early December, the company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it “expects its Sphere segment to report positive adjusted operating income for the current quarter.”

Even without specifics, it seems the venue has turned a corner after reporting massive losses at the end of the quarter that ended Sept. 30. The doors had only been open two days when that quarterly report was issued.

While the U2 residency at Sphere has received smash reviews and reports are that those shows have consistently sold out, the same can’t be said for the Darren Aronofsky film “Postcard From Earth,” which is the only Sphere event that the average visitor can afford to attend.

Higher ticket prices

Gone are the days of the $49 and $69 tickets to see “Postcard” as a part of the presentation the company calls the “Sphere Experience.” That experience includes time within the interior to see demonstrations of some of the Sphere’s technological capabilities and to hang out with multiple robots that answer questions and make conversation.

Tickets now are going for a minimum $79 for the least appealing seats, with most tickets going in the $119 range, plus fees.

It’s impossible for a family of four to take in the Sphere experience and the movie, which runs less than an hour, for under $500 when you throw in parking charges.

Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, who hasn’t attended a Sphere event, said she isn’t surprised by the rise in prices.

“The change in price for the Sphere is logical as they have eliminated some of their cheaper, afternoon shows,” she said. “Also, the publicity the Sphere has received from the viral pictures and videos of the outside of the Sphere has probably increased demand.”

Belarmino said further demand could be stimulated if Sphere officials paid attention to locals.

“I do think that the Sphere would benefit from having local discounts or locals nights if ‘Postcard From Earth’ is going to be standard show,” she said. “I also think that if they offered school field trips it would be a great promotion for them and a great form of community outreach. The visitor feedback from online reviews and social media has been very positive for the Sphere Experience, so I think we will be fortunate enough to have it with us for a long time.”

School field trips is something that Sphere executive James Dolan said would occur at some point, but the company hasn’t publicized any efforts to open the building’s doors to local students.

Another revenue source Sphere officials have been silent on is advertising revenue. The venue has had several advertising activations since it opened, but the company hasn’t quantified how much it makes in a campaign.

Company officials have said they expect to generate some Super Bowl advertising buzz in the weeks leading up to the 2024 Super Bowl at Allegiant Stadium, but there have been no details about what companies will appear or when campaigns would begin.

The Sphere played a prominent role with Formula One activations when the race occurred in mid-November. Again, no details on how successful they were.

No CES at Sphere

Perhaps the biggest surprise about the Sphere was that the technological marvel had no connection to CES — unless you count that the exosphere played a giant game of Tetris on its screen. The video game debuted at CES in 1988, but it was unclear whether Sphere’s graphic content was a tribute to CES or to Willis Gibson, the 13-year-old Oklahoma boy who reportedly beat the game this month.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, said his organization didn’t schedule anything with the Sphere because it was too expensive to use the building. Undoubtedly many CES attendees bought tickets to the Sphere Experience, but to not have a CES event there after the massive buildup was a head-scratcher.

In past CES events, thousands of people queued outside the MGM Grand Garden to get in to hear Bill Gates talk about the newest products Microsoft had to offer.

It seems like the lack of participation of the Sphere with CES was a big swing and a miss.

And speaking of big swings and misses, it appears that the Las Vegas Sphere will be a unique venue for at least a few more years with Sphere officials abandoning any effort to build a venue in London.

London rejection

Although the London planning process probably lost the company millions of dollars, Sphere officials viewed the mayor’s rejection of a London Sphere venue as a lost opportunity for that city.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan feared the Sphere would bring unwanted light pollution to Stratford, east of London. Sphere officials viewed the rejection as a political squabble and withdrew, stating that other more welcoming cities worldwide could become a location for the next Sphere venue.

Various reports have tagged South Korea and Dubai as potential locations for a Sphere.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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