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Sphere Entertainment Pulls Plug on London Venue, Sets Sights on Alternative ‘Forward-Thinking’ Cities  

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Sphere Entertainment has said it’s committed to working with alternative “forward-thinking cities around the world” after officially withdrawing plans to build a Sphere concert arena in London.   

On Monday (Jan. 8), Sphere Entertainment’s sister company, Madison Square Garden Entertainment (MSGE), which is owned by tycoon James Dolan, told British officials that it would not be proceeding with its long-standing proposal to build a Sphere venue in the British capital city.   

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The announcement came less than two months after London Mayor Sadiq Khan blocked plans for the 21,500-capacity, 300-foot-tall spherical building because of the impact he believed it would have on the surrounding area, including high energy use and the “significant light intrusion” it would cause local residents.   

In a letter to the planning inspectorate seen by Billboard, Richard Constable, MSGE’s executive vp/global head of government affairs and social impact, told officials that “following careful review, we cannot continue to participate in a process that is merely a political football between rival parties.”  

“It is extremely disappointing that Londoners will not benefit from the Sphere’s groundbreaking technology and the thousands of well-paying jobs it would have created,” wrote Constable, confirming that MSGE — acting on behalf of Sphere Entertainment — was officially withdrawing its application from the planning process.

The termination of MSGE’s plans for a London version of its $2 billion Sphere venue in Las Vegas follows years of controversy surrounding the project, which was due to be built on a five-acre plot of land in Stratford, East London (the site has been largely derelict since 2012 when it was used as a temporary coach park during the London Olympics).

A proposal for what was later christened MSG Sphere London was first submitted in 2019, but it immediately received strong opposition from local councillors and campaign groups, as well as AEG, the owner and operator of the 20,000-capacity The O2 arena located less than five miles away.   

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Despite residents’ concerns, The London Legacy Development Company provisionally greenlit the plans in March 2022 before they were subsequently overturned by Mayor Khan last November.   

In a statement, Sphere Entertainment said it had informed Michael Gove — the U.K. secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, who initiated a review of the mayor’s decision in December — that it would not be moving forward with its plans for London and would not be participating in a review.

“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,” said a spokesperson for Sphere Entertainment.

Sphere Entertainment Co., formerly Madison Square Garden Entertainment (MSGE), was formed in April when MSGE’s traditional live entertainment business, which includes the Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall venues in New York, split off from the Sphere and MSG Networks businesses. Sphere retained a 33% stake in MSGE.

The five-acre site earmarked for the London Sphere, which MSGE bought for around £60 million ($76 million), is now expected to be put up for sale.   

Meanwhile, the developer is understood to be in talks with multiple international markets about rolling out the Sphere model in other global cities, following its high-grossing debut in Las Vegas last year with a residency by U2.

In December, the New York Post reported that Dolan was meeting with investors in Abu Dhabi about building a second Sphere in the United Arab Emirates capital. Also last year, several South Korean newspapers reported that the city of Hanam was another potential future location after talks took place between city officials and representatives of MSGE. Sphere Entertainment Co. declined to comment on those reports when contacted by Billboard.   

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