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WWE? Awards shows? Watch parties? What’s next for Sphere after NHL Draft?

Updated June 24, 2024 - 7:02 pm

You could see the Super Bowl inside Sphere within the next couple of years.

The game wouldn’t actually be played there. That would just be silly. But viewing parties for major events such as that, on the venue’s mammoth 16K-resolution screen, are a possibility under the next phase of Sphere programming that begins Friday and Saturday with the NHL Draft.

The UFC card that Dana White has said is coming in September likely will be joined by boxing matches and WWE events — a “Raw” or a “Smackdown” leading into WrestleMania 41 would be a real coup. Awards shows also are on the table, along with esports, according to Joel Fisher, executive vice president of marquee events and operations for MSG Entertainment, who oversees marquee events for Sphere.

“The companies that do come to the Sphere and want to have events there need to be visionaries,” Fisher said. “It’s an extremely different way of presenting art, and these companies need to be open and willing to do it.”

The National Hockey League certainly fits that bill.

Sphere opened just nine months ago, but it’s under the same corporate umbrella as the New York Rangers, one of the league’s Original Six teams, as well as Madison Square Garden and MSG Networks, which produces games for the Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. That long-standing relationship certainly didn’t hurt when it came to landing the NHL Draft.

“They were into it right away, because they want to make it different than it’s been,” Fisher said of the league, which is in its final year of a centralized, in-person draft. “I think they wanted to close it out in a very big way, which is exactly what they’re doing.”

What to expect

Sphere has been working with the NHL on the draft “for at least six months,” Fisher said. This is one of the first events, aside from The Sphere Experience, where the majority of the interior content has been produced by Sphere Studios, with testing conducted inside Big Dome, the quarter-scale Sphere in Burbank, California.

“Because of the type of venue Sphere is, and all of the technology that it has to offer, it will be a tremendous show,” Fisher added. “People will feel like they’re part of the show. They’re not just coming to spectate.”

The Exosphere began playing NHL Draft promos a while ago, and more new content will be unveiled as the event draws closer, similar to the way the Super Bowl took over the exterior. For the first time, footage of what’s going on inside Sphere will be shown on the Exosphere, seemingly bringing passersby inside the draft.

“They’ve been working on the content for a while now,” Jennifer Koester, who was recently named Sphere’s president and chief operating officer, said in an interview last month at the venue. “I’ve seen some of the initial things, and they’re just, they’re empowering for the NHL. It’s truly going to be a moment in time for them. I expect the phone will be ringing for every other sports league to come and have a similar moment here.”

A series of firsts

Not only is the NHL Draft the first marquee event inside Sphere, it’s the first live broadcast from the venue. (U2 had the honor of the first broadcast from Sphere during the Grammys, but that performance was prerecorded and heavily edited.)

The draft will serve as something of a coming-out party for Sphere, letting audiences around the world see more than just the clips of the venue that have circulated on social media.

“In a lot of ways, the draft, because it’s going to be broadcast nationally and internationally, will be the first time that people will see the capabilities of what we can do inside on the media plane,” Fisher said.

Sphere had another first June 18 with Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s HPE Discover 2024, its first corporate keynote address. That will make the NHL Draft, as a marquee event, the final piece of Sphere’s four-pronged approach to programming that began with concerts and The Sphere Experience, which includes a screening of the movie “Postcard From Earth.”

“I’m so excited about these corporate events that we’re going to be bringing here and these sports-type events, and the ability to broadcast them and bring them out to the world so everyone can get a taste of what’s happening,” Koester said. “Although you actually really need to be in here to truly appreciate what’s happening.”

What’s next?

For the fiscal quarter ending March 31, Sphere hosted more than 270 events and more than a million guests, Koester said. “That’s busier than the busiest venues in the world.”

Things are about to get even busier with the corporate and marquee events coming online.

The 3D Audio-Beamforming that’s displayed as part of The Sphere Experience eventually will be able to broadcast sound in different languages to different sections of the venue. For an international keynote, audiences could hear Mandarin in Section 104, Japanese in Section 210 and German in Section 306 — with no overlap.

“And that’s unlike any other venue in the world,” Koester noted.

As for future events, Fisher helped bring the Grammys and the MTV Video Music Awards to Madison Square Garden. If either of those ceremonies were looking to shake things up, Sphere would be a natural fit.

“The VMAs, the Grammys, all those types of things would be tremendous at the Sphere,” Fisher said. “It would just take it to another whole level. Obviously, we’re open to talking to all of those shows.”

As for the future, Koester said, “I think sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do in this space.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on X.

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