New York Knicks James Dolan has never made the team his number-one priority, much to the chagrin of the NBA team's exasperated fan base.
But many Knicks fans may not know that Dolan's latest passion project involves futuristic, dome-shaped arenas with wall-to-wall movie screens and adjustable temperatures meant to mimic exotic climates from around the world.
While the Knicks failed to sign coveted free agents Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Dolan, who is also the controlling owner of The Madison Square Garden Company, is planning on spending billions of dollars building MSG Spheres — the first of which will open in 2021 in Las Vegas.
Dolan has been working on the pet project for more than a year. The basic idea is for each arena to be an event in itself. MSG Spheres won't just house live concerts and other spectacles, they'll also be able to feature movies and media specifically for the arena. Acoustics will be personally delivered to individual seats by something called "beam-forming sound," allowing people sitting next to each other to hear completely different things.
The Las Vegas MSG Sphere will have an interior giant movie screen of about 160,000 square feet, wrapping up, over and behind a stage. A standard movie theater screen is about 1,000 square feet. The venue itself will seat about 17,500 people. The entire exterior of the sphere will be made of a high-definition LED screens. Dolan said last year the building's interior effects will attempt to copy what it feels like to be in different climates. "Evocative scents" will be pumped into the arena to help enrich the interactive experience, according to a company statement.
"Just sitting there, what would it take to convince you that instead of sitting here in an airplane hangar in Las Vegas, you are sitting in your chair in the polar ice cap or an Amazon rainforest?" said Dolan at an event presentation, according to The New York Post.
"Obviously if you are in the polar ice cap, you have to feel cold; you have to see the glacier. That is essentially what we are building: an attempt to convince you that you are somewhere else."
MSG is already building spheres in Las Vegas and London. If the first two venues are successful, MSG will try to build arenas in more locations, according to people familiar with the matter. The idea is to make MSG Spheres the gold standard for modern venues.
MSG announced last year it was exploring spinning the Knicks and NHL's New York Rangers into a separate publicly traded company. That fueled some suspicion that Dolan may be preparing to sell the teams.
Dolan knocked down that theory in an ESPN profile in December, saying his family "likes being owners" and has no interest in selling the teams. Still, once the teams trade publicly on their own, isolated from the rest of MSG, they'll have a price tag on them. Dolan has a responsibility to shareholders to take credible offers seriously, especially ones that come with a sizable premium.
An additional benefit of spinning the Knicks and Rangers into a separately traded company is that MSG could more easily borrow money to fuel the construction of spheres. Professional sports leagues have rules that would potentially cap the amount Dolan could borrow against the teams as assets.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with the Knicks. And that's the point. While thousands of New Yorkers have had agita for 46 years (and counting) waiting for an NBA title, the Knicks have never been Dolan's passion.
"I don't have any appetite for running the team," Dolan said in the ESPN profile. "That's not my expertise."
Instead, Dolan prefers to spend his time buying real estate — MSG owns several famous event arenas including the L.A. Forum, Radio City Music Hall, the Chicago Theatre and of course Madison Square Garden. He is the frontman and singer in his country blues band, JD & The Straight Shot. His family is the controlling shareholder of MSG Networks, which owns the MSG regional sports networks, and AMC Networks, the media company that owns cable channels AMC, IFC, Sundance TV, We TV and about half of BBC America. Dolan was CEO of cable provider Cablevision before selling to Altice for $17.7 billion in 2016.
While dumping the blame entirely on Dolan for failing to sign Durant and Irving may be unfair, that won't stop most Knicks fans. When you rule over a team with an iron fist for decades and fail to deliver championships, you get the blame.
Maybe one of the spheres can virtually transport Knicks fans to a place where the team is owned by someone else.