MSG withdraws plans for Vegas-style London Sphere

The developers said they didn’t wish to participate in a process “merely a political football between rival parties”.

The Sphere lights up for the first time in Las Vegas in celebration of Independence Day on July 4, 2023, photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images

The Sphere lights up for the first time in Las Vegas in celebration of Independence Day on July 4, 2023. Image: Greg Doherty/Getty Images

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Madison Square Garden Entertainment (MSG) has formally withdrawn their plans to build a Las Vegas-style Sphere arena in London, saying it did not wish to participate in a process that was “merely a political football between rival parties”.

The company wrote in a letter to the Planning Inspectorate that it was “extremely disappointing” that Londoners would “not benefit from the Sphere’s groundbreaking technology and the thousands of well-paying jobs it would have created”.

It continued: “After spending millions of pounds acquiring our site in Stratford and collaboratively engaging in a five-year planning process with numerous governmental bodies, including the local planning authority who approved our plans following careful review, we cannot continue to participate in a process that is merely a political football between rival parties.”

The 21,500-capacity arena, which was first announced in 2018, was supposed to be built in Stratford, east London, on land that had previously been used as a coach park during the 2012 Olympics. If constructed, it would have been the largest arena in the UK.

Sphere had been a controversial prospect from the start. Concerns had been raised over the impact of light pollution and environmental impact caused by the estimated 1,000,000 LED light bulbs and bright advertisements that would have been used on its exterior. MSG had promised to provide blackout blinds to homes within 150 metres of the venue, as well as those with a direct view of it, and set up a telephone line for complaints.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 17: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track in front of Sphere during final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit on November 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Clive Mason – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Other opponents of the plans pointed to the potential for the venue to put strain on local infrastructure, especially the nearby Stratford station which already handles a large volume of people from Westfield and for London Stadium, which is used by West Ham football club.

The venue also faced opposition from AEG, which objected due to the proximity of the proposed site to its own arena, The O2, which is only four miles away.

The issue became more contentious in November when London mayor Sadiq Khan blocked the plans at the stage 2 decision. However, the UK government then intervened, with levelling-up secretary Michael Gove ordering a six-week pause to give him time to consider calling in the mayor’s decision to pull the plug on the development of the venue.

Despite this, the company said in a statement: “We have informed Mr. Gove that our decision not to move forward with our plans for Sphere in London stands, and we will not be participating in the call-in process. We would like to thank all of those who worked earnestly to bring this project to London.

“We are committed to continuing to work collaboratively with forward-thinking cities around the world who are serious about bringing this next-generation entertainment experience to their communities.”

The Las Vegas Sphere opened in September with a residency from U2, which recently got extended until February 2024. However, it was recently reported that the venue had made a loss of $98.4 million, having cost $2.3 billion to build.

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