It costs a lot of money to build anything on the Las Vegas Strip.
The 4.2-mile stretch of road comes with a lot of logistical problems. It can be easy to forget that Las Vegas sits in the middle of the Nevada desert. That makes construction materials more expensive, and the sheer amount of construction that’s always in progress raises labor costs.
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Add in that you’re trying to build in a place that’s crowded by tourists and where gridlock, or at least terrible traffic, is very common and you can see why projects sometimes go south quickly.
Right now, the Las Vegas Strip has the Dream Hotel, a boutique project near Harry Reid Airport, where construction has been stopped since March due to funding problems.
It also has Fontainebleau Las Vegas, a North Strip resort casino that has been under construction for nearly 20 years. And while the project does appear set to finish, with the company hiring people to open at the end of the year, it’s fair to call Fontainebleau a cautionary tale for anyone building on the Las Vegas Strip.
Another project, the Sphere, once owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment and now owned by a spinoff, Sphere Entertainment, has been another snakebit Las Vegas Strip project. Now, Sphere has a new problem that undermines the value of the unique concert and entertainment venue.
Sphere Has Faced a Bunch of Problems
Sphere was supposed to be an answer to the many performance venues owned by Caesars Entertainment (CZR) – Get Free Report, MGM Resorts International (MGM) – Get Free Report, and others on the Las Vegas Strip. Most of these venues are either not created for music — like T-Mobile Arena or Allegiant Stadium — or they are smaller venues that host thousands of people, but not 15,000 to 20,000 like most arenas.
In theory, Sphere is a purpose-built venue designed for bands to perform in. The problem — and it’s only one of them — is that to perform at Sphere, a band needs to create a custom show and be able to fill a 17,000-seat venue often enough to justify the cost of creating a venue-specific show.
Opening headliner U2 checks both of those boxes, but it’s hard to name more than a handful of bands who could (and would want to) do both. Bruce Springsteen, for example, could sell out the venue for months, and so could Billy Joel, but it’s hard to think either of those performers — both of whom use mostly bare stages — would want to create a Sphere-worthy show.
And, aside from the major question of exactly which acts will play at the venue, the cost for Sphere keeps escalating. Original estimates for Sphere pegged the cost at $1.2 billion, which was later raised to $1.7 billion. Now, its most recent earnings report, the company has adjusted those costs even higher.
“As construction nears completion of Sphere in Las Vegas, the Company has adjusted its construction cost estimate, inclusive of core technology and soft costs, to approximately $2.3 billion, from its prior estimate of $2.175 billion, with the increase primarily reflecting the overall complexity of the project,” the company shared.
Sphere Has a Major Design Flaw
In addition to those problems, the venue’s operators discovered a major problem when doing a walkthrough before U2 tickets went on sale, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
The view of the venue’s video screens from about 800 premium seats is obstructed.
“The obstructed seats are in the venue’s 100 section, or the lowest seated section behind the general admission area. The overhang blocking the view is the platform for next level higher, the 200 section. If you are seated in a seat in the 100 section, the view behind you could be partially obstructed,” the paper reported.
People in those seats can still see the band, but that’s not the full performance at Sphere. People who purchased tickets for the affected seats have been contacted and offered a partial refund, or the ability to shift to a different section on a different date.
This issue is not U2-specific and has nothing to do with the band’s involvement in the show, according to the paper. The design flaw, however, could have lasting impact on some of the best seats in the venue or add new costs if there’s a way to correct it.
“The 100 and 200 sections are considered choice positions to see the show. Wednesday afternoon, tickets in the 100 section were running $2,600-$4,200 on secondary ticket site LasVegasTickets.com. Tickets in the 200 section were going for between $1,700 and $3,100,” the Review-Journal reported.
Sphere shared a statement with the paper:
“Our fans and their experience are always our top priority. As soon as we realized there was an issue, we worked closely with event organizers to reach the affected ticketholders with several make-good options. We look forward to Sphere’s opening with U2 and their incredible run of shows they have planned for fans this fall.”