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Marketing Digital Transformation Media Planning and Buying

The MSG Sphere offers huge marketing potential – for an equally hefty price

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By Webb Wright | NY reporter

October 5, 2023 | 8 min read

Las Vegas’s new $2.3bn attraction has been popping off on social media. But with a one-day ad takeover reportedly priced at $450,000, can marketers justify the cost?

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The outer surface of the MSG Sphere is reportedly the largest LED screen on the planet. / Adobe Stock

If you’ve been on the internet at all over the past week, chances are you’ve seen footage of an enormous, luminescent orb that’s been added to the Las Vegas cityscape, like the vessel of some alien species that’s come to Earth with the sole intention of partying.

It’s called the Sphere at the Venetian Resort, but it's more commonly known as the MSG Sphere (after its contractor, Madison Square Garden) or simply “the Sphere,” and it has social media in an uproar.

Technically, it’s not a sphere; it’s more of a dome. But geometrical misnomers aside, Vegas’s newest attraction is undeniably impressive. Five years in the making, 366 feet tall and costing around $2.3bn to construct, it seats about 17,000 people and is comprised of 1.2m small LED discs just a few inches in diameter that can individually display a dazzling array of colors. The Sphere is both an engineering triumph and a fitting addition to the playfully bizarre, almost surrealist topography of Las Vegas, with its pyramid, replica of the Eiffel Tower and enormous choreographed fountains.

Footage from last weekend’s opening concert of U2’s 25-show residency makes the inside of the Sphere look like something between an Imax experience and some holographic version of the Sistine Chapel. The stage is relatively small compared with the massive spectacle of lights hovering over concertgoers in every direction, giving the impression that a concert there is less about the music than it is about the visual experience.

A new frontier for OOH?

It is the Sphere’s exterior, however, that’s been getting the bulk of attention online while also generating some excitement throughout the marketing industry. Recent aerial footage shows the outer surface of the Sphere – nicknamed the Exosphere and reportedly the largest LED screen on Earth – aglow with moving images that range from psychedelic, Tame Impala-esque ripples to (more disturbingly) a giant, blinking eyeball.

When it comes to advertising on the Sphere, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that the Sphere presents a (literally) massive opportunity to advertisers. An ad displayed on the Sphere’s outer surface is about as impossible for Las Vegas drivers and pedestrians to ignore as an ad that’s been beamed onto the surface of a full moon on a clear night. Such an ad also stands a very good chance of going viral online – at least in these early days while the Sphere is still a novelty.

“The Sphere is a super unique canvas that’s forcing brands to think outside of the standard OOH deliverable to truly ‘wow’ audiences from hotel rooms in Vegas to social videos all around the globe,” says Lina Maggi, head of OOH at BCN Visuals, a 3D anamorphic advertising company that’s preparing to launch a campaign on the Sphere on October 19. (Maggi declined to provide details about the campaign.)

The bad news is that the costs of advertising on the Sphere are equally massive. While official figures have yet to be released, a leaked pitch deck from X (formerly Twitter) user @PitchDeckGuy shows that a one-day ad takeover of the Sphere costs $450,000 while a one-week run costs $650,000.

The leaked deck includes estimated daily impressions for an ad running on the Sphere: 300,000 in-person and 4.4m on social media. That’s undoubtedly a huge amount of exposure: “Featured content will attract crowds similar to the Bellagio’s Fountain,” the pitch deck promises. But the price tag makes it infeasible for all but the most deep-pocketed of brands.

For those who can afford it, however, the next four months should be a fruitful period to advertise on the Sphere: Las Vegas is hosting a Formula One event next month, the NBA In-Season Tournament in December, as well as the 2024 Super Bowl.

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To date, only two brands have advertised on the Sphere: YouTube, which displayed giant helmets on the side of the Exosphere to promote its NFL Sunday Ticket broadcasting package, and the NBA, which (naturally) turned the venue into a giant basketball to publicize its Summer League event and announce its In-Season Tournament.

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“The Sphere is a first-of-its-kind marketing canvas that naturally catches the eye of anyone who comes across it,” says Tammy Henault, chief marketing officer at the NBA. “It is a highly visible, unique way to break through the clutter ... The Sphere’s never-before-seen technology got fans around the world talking and we found creative ways to capture content around it to extend the reach.”

After a slump during the pandemic which impacted the whole of the out-of-home advertising market, digital out-of-home has slowly and steadily been making a comeback. According to a recent report from Insider Intelligence, ad dollar spend on DOOH is projected to be higher in 2023 than in 2019. The report also notes, however, that DOOH ad spend is down from pre-pandemic levels after inflation has been factored in.

Technological advancements have also led to an efflorescence in new possibilities for OOH, including not only the Sphere but also a host of so-called faux-out-of-home (FOOH) campaigns – digital simulations of OOH that are designed to look as if they actually took place in the real world.

The Sphere, says Out of home Advertising Association of America (OAAA) executive vice president and chief marketing officer Julie Thompson, "reinforces the dramatic innovation that's happening in the OOH space."

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