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Sphere, the newest addition to Strip skyline, has big future plans | Las Vegas Review-Journal
Sphere, the newest addition to Strip skyline, has big future plans | Las Vegas Review-Journal

To celebrate the beginning of the 2023 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Sphere transformed the Exosphere into a basketball with a welcome message to teams, players and fans marking the start of the annual event. (Sphere Entertainment)
The Sphere illuminates the Las Vegas skyline on Tuesday, July 4, 2023. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Now that the Sphere has lit up Las Vegas with a dazzling array of imagery that has forever changed the Strip skyline, what’s next?

Plenty, according to the Sphere’s president and chief operating officer, David Hopkinson, who also oversees global partnerships across the Madison Square Garden family of companies.

And the best part may be that the building’s features are so new that even the company hasn’t explored all of the possibilities that may be out there.

“We always had the ambition that the Fourth of July was a really good time to show the world what we were up to on the exosphere,” Hopkinson said in an exclusive interview with the Review-Journal. “You saw some great art installations there, whether it was the Stars and Stripes or the lunar surface. We really started to show what Sphere’s capabilities are.”

Some of the other striking images were the portrayal of the Earth, a gigantic eyeball and a massive pumpkin. And, of course, the big basketball.

“We knew the NBA’s Summer League is out there because our basketball team (the New York Knicks) is going to be out there. We should make a big basketball,” Hopkinson said.

Easy conversation

“I’d love to tell you there was some huge strategy behind it, but no, we called the NBA and said, ‘Hey, might you be interested in this?’ and they said yes, and it became another way for us to do something that showed Sphere’s capabilities and attract some attention that was good for our friends at the NBA.”

It was an easy conversation for Sphere executives to have because Hopkinson works closely with Madison Square Garden’s sports entities, including the Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers.

The initial effort to put the image of an NBA basketball on the 580,000-square-foot exosphere screen was an artistic endeavor and not a commercial ad sale. Another Summer League promotional piece included an animation of basketballs bouncing around what appeared to be a giant gumball machine. Technicians also delivered a congratulatory message Monday night after the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Houston Rockets for the NBA Summer League championship.

The demonstration of what the Sphere can do opens the door to future projects.

Hopkinson promised that it wouldn’t all be advertising.

“Our ambition for Sphere is art as well as commerce,” he said. “Half of the operational time of Sphere will be art, and we’re looking forward to being part of that community. We’ve got this incredible canvas that we’re very curious to see what the artists and creatives can do with. The other half of the time we expect will be commercial and brands and advertisers, many of whom are household names or aspiring to be household names, will be interested in showcasing their brands and products on Sphere. But the initial kickoff with the NBA is much more in the art category than the commerce category.”

Hopkinson said potential advertisers are interested in seeing what they can do with the Sphere canvas, but he didn’t disclose who they are or what they plan to promote.

“We are not in a position to share that unfortunately today,” he said. “But they are big household names and special events. It’s a really interesting cross-section of companies that are interested.”

Working overtime

He said he has a sales team that is working overtime to chase leads.

“Think about movie studios,” Hopkinson said. “Would that be the right place to promote your upcoming release? If you’ve got a new car, a new cola, a new beer, if you’ve got a showstopping announcement, we’re hearing from brands globally who are interested in getting their message to that audience.

“We’ve got an opportunity for you to absolutely dominate the market for a short period of time and get your message out to a place that’s going to see 40 million visitors on an annual basis, that is a pretty easy conversation to have.”

Hopkinson is counting on any message to be amplified by social media because he figures thousands of people will photograph or video the screen in action and post those images to their favorite social media accounts.

“When we’re talking to advertisers, one of the things we’re really trying to remind them of that this is a medium that’s unlike other mediums, and if they do this creatively, if they engage with us in an intelligent way, and a creative way and a playful way, we have every confidence that that is going to have far more impact and a bunch of that impact will be people tweeting it to their friends, putting it on Instagram, putting it on Threads.”

He got a feel for that July 5, the day after the Sphere’s initial Fourth of July nighttime activation.

“When I woke up the morning of the fifth of July, my inbox was flooded from people all over the world,” Hopkinson said. “It was instantly a global sensation. And I think that that is the really unique character of what we’ve built here. It’s so big. It’s so novel. It’s totally unique and people want to show that.”

Formula One partnership

The Sphere already has an agreement in place with the operators of the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix race.

“Our partnership with F1 is complete as is Sphere’s prominence at F1 (the race course circles around the Sphere). We’ve got a passive plan for that and, yeah, Las Vegas is hosting a pretty big football game in February, and we’re working through exactly what that is going to look like,” he said, referencing Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium.

What’s exciting to Hopkinson is that everything is still fresh enough that a number of possibilities haven’t yet been explored.

“We do not have all the answers yet, but I’m excited to see how this develops,” he said.

“We’ve heard no negatives so far. It’s been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re waiting for some data to corroborate that.”

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

This content was originally published here.