As many a great music venue in the sky could testify, the live business cares little for sentiment.
Earls Court and Wembley Arena were London’s go-to indoor venues for decades, but soon found themselves cast in the shade when the state-of-the-art O2 came along in 2007. So with Madison Square Garden Company’s eye-popping, next generation MSG Sphere project landing in the capital early in the next decade, could history be about to repeat itself?
One thing is for certain - MSG is not coming to London to be second best. “We are hoping this will be the busiest venue in the world,” MSG president Andy Lustgarten told Music Week, confidently.
That crown, of course, presently belongs to The O2, whose owner AEG is embroiled in a standoff with Azoff MSG Entertainment. The dispute began when Azoff MSG reportedly started refusing to book acts into its storied Madison Square Garden in New York unless they also played its Los Angeles venue, The Forum, over AEG’s Staples Center. In response, AEG insisted that artists that chose The Forum over the Staples Center would not be booked into The O2.
If that impasse continues, it seems inevitable that the scalable 18,000-seat MSG Sphere London will be used as an additional bargaining chip.
MSG Sphere London is likely to stimulate debate on whether the London entertainment scene can support three arenas
With a battle with The O2 over major acts looking inevitable, the smaller SSE Arena, Wembley - currently enjoying a resurgence under AEG - could have the most to lose. Then again, should it remain unaffected by the booking dispute, it may even benefit by picking up the scraps.
MSG Sphere London is likely to stimulate debate on whether the London entertainment scene can support three arenas. Lustgarten is adamant it can, pointing to similar situations in the US where MSG's The Forum in Los Angeles has bolstered that city's events business rather than hurt AEG's established Staples Center. Elsewhere, in New York, the roles were reversed - the AEG-operated Barclays Center significantly growing a market previously dominated by Madison Square Garden.
London also has fewer large arenas relative to population size than other major cities including Paris, Berlin and Madrid, and MSG’s plans for its futuristic new venue stretch far beyond music. "The key word to us is entertainment," said Lustgarten, who has placed esports and other immersive experiences high on its hitlist. The venue was previewed at a special event at the Copper Box Arena in Olympic Park on Tuesday evening, complete with a miniature replica.
Promising cutting edge technology, first class amenities and an iconic spherical shape sure to become a London landmark, it is undeniably impressive. Indeed, it has already ruffled feathers, with AEG raising a “question mark” over its proximity to existing venues.
Never short of a soundbite, legendary artist manager Irving Azoff previously dismissed the MSG/AEG dispute as “good, tough business”. It is about to get even tougher.