From the day F1 announced the Las Vegas Grand Prix, visuals of cars crashing down The Strip at night captured the imagination.
But the upcoming Formula One circuit will also pass through another element that will capture the attention of spectators around the world: The new Sphere, a 20,000-capacity entertainment venue that is the largest spherical structure in the world and cost $2.3 billion to build.
The Sphere is impossible to miss for F1 fans. It’s been for any Las Vegas visitor who’s been in the city since the Sphere’s “exosphere” — its outdoor LED screen — began lighting up in July.
Next week, when F1 comes to town, the Sphere will sit inside the track near Turns 5, 6 and 7 – adjacent to the fan area with both general admission and grandstand seating called the “T-Mobile Zone at Sphere. ” That zone will be the main venue for concerts and other weekend entertainment. (Also where The AthleticMichael Dominski will report on the race.)
“We’re excited to present Sphere to the millions of Formula 1 fans watching around the world,” Sphere executive chairman and CEO James Dolan said on an investor call this week. “As part of our agreement, F1 will have a multi-day takeover of the Sphere, including using the exosphere (to) show race-related content and compelling brand activation.”
What does that mean? Well, the exterior of the structure features 1.2 million puck-sized LEDs, offering a blank canvas for creative content opportunities. That’s an area where F1 has a lot of experience.
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Las Vegas GP organizers plan to make heavy use of the Sphere during the pre-race build-up and the national anthem, although the visuals will have to be toned down during on-track sessions to prevent drivers from mistaking an object in the exosphere for a yellow or red flag.
“It will serve as an incredible backdrop to our Sphere grandstands where you have some turns, you have a chicane – it will be an incredible place to have a ticket,” said the CEO of the Las Vegas GP who is Renee Wilm The Athletic. “… We will only continue the momentum with their global exposure. It will be great racing and a great customer experience.”
Of course, not everything is positive. Concerns range from the environment (light pollution, energy use) to increased traffic along the heavily used Sands Ave.
Vegas taxi driver Dale Corson said there are stories of rideshares taking 90 minutes to get to the Sphere entrance before events because traffic is so chaotic.
“There’s no parking because they have a race setup in the parking lot,” Corson said last month. “So you can’t get there to park.”
Although the exosphere gets a lot of attention – it appears as everything from a giant basketball during the NBA Summer League in a an emoji appears to peek into hotel rooms – it’s the theater inside the Sphere that has generated a lot of buzz since opening on September 29 with a series of U2 concerts. It also has director Darren Aronofsky’s film experience called “Postcard from Earth” – which, like the U2 residency, has created jaw-dropping visuals on the massive screen that envelops the audience.
‘This is probably the best thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life’ — U2 began its residency at the Las Vegas Sphere in September, 7 years after the venue was first conceptualized pic.twitter.com/5UE8yNJISD
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 7, 2023
Dolan said “Postcard from Earth” and the U2 shows led the Sphere to generate $1 million in daily ticket revenue through October. Both shows will go dark during race week, but the Sphere itself will still be an attention grabber.
“We already see Sphere’s ability to inspire and awe, and the venue has become a landmark destination in Las Vegas,” Dolan said. “But we’re just getting started and we’re excited about how much more we can do with this new entertainment media in the future.”
This includes building additional Sphere areas around the world, though this is a relatively expensive proposition. The Sphere draw headlines this week when its quarterly earnings report revealed an operating loss of $98.4 million (though that didn’t include any of the October shows). The company’s CFO Gautam Ranji also quit.
But during F1 week, Sphere-related conversation tends to range from “What’s that thing?” to “Did you see what they put out of it this time?”
“The exosphere will be used in many different ways, both from an entertainment perspective as well as to support our sponsors who have invested in our race,” said Wilm. “And then also highlight some areas of the race itself.”
Dolan said: “Our journey with Sphere is just beginning. And while the Sphere will take time to realize its full potential, we’re off to a good start.”
(Lead Image: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images; Design: Eamonn Dalton/The Athletic)