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From F1’s Sphere Takeover to the “Incredible Backdrop” of the Las Vegas GP: A Transformation from Traffic Snarl

Since the day F1 announced the Las Vegas Grand Prix, the visual of cars streaking down The Strip at night has captivated people’s imagination.

But the upcoming Formula One circuit will also pass through another element that will catch viewers’ attention worldwide: The new Sphere, a 20,000-capacity entertainment venue that is the largest spherical structure in the world and cost $2.3 billion to build.

The Sphere will be impossible to miss for F1 fans. It already is for any Las Vegas visitor who has been to the city since the Sphere’s “exosphere” – its external LED screen – began lighting up in July.

Next week, when F1 comes to town, the Sphere will sit inside the track near Turns 5, 6 and 7 – adjacent to a fan area with both general admission and grandstand seating called “T-Mobile Zone at Sphere.” That zone will be the main area for concerts and other entertainment during the weekend. (It’s also where The Athletic’s Michael Dominski will report on the race.)

“We’re excited to showcase Sphere to the millions of Formula 1 fans that will be watching around the world,” Sphere executive chairman and CEO James Dolan said on an investor call this week. “As part of our agreement, F1 will have a multi-day takeover of Sphere, including the use of the exosphere (to) display race-related content and compelling brand activations.”

What does that mean? Well, the outside of the structure features 1.2 million puck-sized LEDs, which offers a blank canvas for creative content opportunities. That’s an area F1 has plenty of experience with.

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Las Vegas GP organizers plan to use the Sphere heavily during the pre-race buildup and the national anthem, although the visuals will need to be toned down during the on-track sessions to avoid drivers mistaking something on the exosphere for a yellow or red flag.


(Dan Istitene/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“It will serve as an incredible backdrop to our Sphere grandstands where you have a number of turns, you have a chicane – it will be an incredible place to have a ticket,” Las Vegas GP CEO Renee Wilm told The Athletic. “… We’re just going to continue the momentum around their global exposure. It’ll be terrific racing and a terrific customer experience.”

Of course, it’s not all positive. Concerns have ranged from environmental (light pollution, energy usage) to increased traffic along the heavily-used Sands Ave.

Vegas taxi driver Dale Corson said there have been stories of rideshares taking 90 minutes to reach the Sphere entrance before events because traffic has been so snarled.

“There’s no parking because they have the race setup in the parking lot,” Corson said last month. “So you can’t even get there to park.”

Though the exosphere has gotten plenty of attention – it’s appeared as everything from a giant basketball during the NBA Summer League to an emoji appearing to peek into hotel rooms – it’s the theater inside the Sphere that has generated loads of buzz since opening Sept. 29 with a series of U2 concerts. It also has a film experience by director Darren Aronofsky called “Postcard from Earth” – which, like the U2 residency, has created jaw-dropping visuals on the massive screen enveloping the audience.

Dolan said “Postcard from Earth” and the U2 shows have led to the Sphere generating $1 million in daily ticket revenues through October. Both shows will go dark during race week, but the Sphere itself will still be an attention-getter.

“We are already seeing Sphere’s ability to inspire awe and wonder, and the venue has become a landmark destination in Las Vegas,” Dolan said. “But we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface and are excited by how much further we can take this new entertainment media in the future.”

That includes building additional Sphere venues around the world, though it’s quite an expensive proposition. The Sphere drew headlines this week when its quarterly earnings report revealed an operating loss of $98.4 million (though that did not include any of the October shows). The company’s CFO Gautam Ranji also quit.

But during F1 week, the Sphere-related conversation will likely range from “What the heck is that thing?” to “Did you see what they put on the outside of it this time?”

“The exosphere will be utilized in many different ways, both from an entertainment perspective as well as to support our sponsors who have invested in our race,” Wilm said. “And then also to highlight some areas of the race itself.”

Said Dolan: “Our journey with Sphere is just beginning. And while it will take some time for Sphere to realize its full potential, we’re off to a great start.”

(Lead Image: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images; Design: Eamonn Dalton/The Athletic)

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