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A Bold New Venture For Sphere… And A Reminder About Budgeting

Sphere, the recently opened, one-of-a-kind event venue in Las Vegas is taking a bold leap forward this summer and with it comes a pretty hefty price tag. Speaking of budgets…  

Sphere of Big Influence

Rapidly becoming a Vegas icon just east of The Strip, Sphere is venturing from its music and entertainment roots and moving into corporate meetings and events for the first time with what promises to be a Wowza! experience when Hewlett-Packard Enterprise [HPE] uses the venue for its keynote address at HPE Discover this summer.

HPE CEO Antonio Neri will deliver his Welcome Speech June 18 on Day 2 of the four-day event intended to give attendees a glimpse of what’s to come in Artificial Intelligence [AI] on the not-too-distant horizon.

Opened in September 2023, Sphere has become quite the chatter-magnet for its unique design,  captivating visual effects, supreme acoustics, and truly immersive, 4-D live experiences. What makes this event truly noteworthy is the bold — and likely very costly — reimagining of corporate events that goes beyond mere good intentions to engage and inspire attendees, and truly delivers against that goal. [When I say costly, consider that advertising alone on the venue’s exterior runs an eye-popping $450,000 … per day!]

With seating for 17,600 and featuring a 160,000-square-foot LED screen that wraps up, over and around the audience, Sphere is a venue on a never-before-seen scale. Think otherworldly planetarium on steroids. In addition to the unlimited visual effects made possible by the enormity and flexibility of the projection surfaces, each seat is WiFi-equipped and includes Sphere Immersive Sound powered by HOLOPLOT, delivering precise, crystal-clear sound no matter where you’re sitting. Literally, every cubic inch of the attendee space is filled with perfectly equalized audio.

The exterior of Sphere, called the Exosphere – and basically a $450k-a-day digital billboard — is the largest LED screen on the planet, consisting of more than 1.2 million LED pucks that enable more than one billion color-hue options. Even the pickiest of planners and logo cops will find the perfect shade of whatever color anchors their branding. Operators of the venue have had fun with the Exosphere in its first six months of operation, turning the gigantic orb into a brilliant orange Jack O’ Lantern last October and a colossal, swirling snow globe during the December holidays.

Looking for a cool venue for your next major meeting or event? Book now … and open that wallet of yours really, really, really wide.

Speaking of Budgeting …

I suspect the first meeting or event ever booked carried with it budget constraints, budget concerns, and budget headaches. If there’s one constant in the life of a corporate planner, it involves dollars and cents/sense and a whole lotta pressure.

Guess what …? Nothing has changed in 2024 except perhaps the tautness of the budgetary belt.

We all know we’ve been stuck in an inflationary rut for quite a while and we can expect to see especially elevated costs at hotels and other meeting venues as they scramble to backfill losses incurred during the pandemic, and cost run-ups due to supply chain snags, labor challenges, and difficulty in filling key staff positions with experienced, senior-level people.

A recent poll of 500 planners conducted by American Express Meetings & Events found an expectation of cost hikes ranging from 3.5-4% across all meeting types in 2024. That’s on top of escalating prices the last two years. Included in these higher hotel costs are food and beverage, labor, power, and insurance. Basically, planners are expected, more than ever, to do more with less. [So much for the glam life of a planner, right?]

What’s driving this is an overdemand for meeting space and hotel rooms as companies settle back into a rhythm of F2F meetings that had gone AWOL for a while, replaced by Zoom or Microsoft Teams calls, hybrid events, or outright event cancellations.

There’s always hope …

Nevertheless, there are ways to mitigate your monetary concerns and still deliver a first-class event. Let’s take a closer look …

First and foremost, get ahead of your challenges! If you get in front of a problem or a challenge, it’s much, much easier to negotiate better prices, more meaningful concessions, and added touches that cost you nothing. Now try to do that in arrears and you’ll end up with a big bill and an even bigger post-event reconciliation headache.

Be candid with your team, your vendors, your venue candidates and, of course, your client. Help them understand there are limitations to what you can promise and deliver upon, and creativity is the name of the game when budgets are tight.

Understanding there’s always a cost to do something, step back and take a broader look at your preferences. This where the “dollars and sense” thing kicks in.

Do you really need to be city-center … or would a venue a few miles away make better sense financially?

Does your program have to take place in the springtime … or would a date several months later yield more lucrative pricing?

Is everyone expecting to attend absolutely necessary … or can you whittle your invitee list down to mission-critical folks who can later cascade learnings to others when they return?

Florals and décor are a nice touch  … but do you really need those Birds-of-Paradise centerpieces flown in from Central America?

Is that activity-filled afternoon on your agenda — the one packed with Segway tours and shopping, golf and pickleball — really what everyone wants … or would attendees be just as happy striking out on their own for a few hours, catching a nap, or hanging out with colleagues at the patio bar for a round or two?

Give some extra thought to the length of your conference. Is everything in v.1 of your proposed agenda absolutely necessary … or could you pare that agenda back a bit to save a day of lodging, F&B, space rental, audio-visual gear, power-pull, staffing, etc.?

You get my point. Though it may conflict with your initial vision of the perfect meeting or event, there are always smart corners that can be cut in the interest of cost-savings without sacrificing the richness and quality of your gathering.

On that last point above about meeting length, I’m surprised any time I see a Closing General Session as the only item on the final-day agenda before departures. My question: Do you really need to hold onto that A-V gear and crew an extra day or could send-off remarks be delivered as part of the previous afternoon/evening activities? Even in instances where there’s a final round or two of breakouts on the last day of your program, go ahead and strike the General Session room and save yourself some money.

One more thing …

Designing a time-efficient, no-fat agenda can actually be a blessing in disguise. As most writers, painters, and project managers will tell you, deadline pressure tends to elicit their most efficient and creative work. There’s an old saying, “Need a project done well, give it to a busy man or woman.” It’s true.

Tighter time constraints force you into creating smarter, crisper event designs and tighter, more clearly thought-out presentations minus the fluff that tends to creep into all presenter scripts and PowerPoint decks. This is a great time to study or re-study the TED Talks model which emphasizes engaging, to-the-point presentations that max out at 18 minutes, and are oftentimes shorter. Basically, it’s “Get on stage, make your point, get off stage … and don’t suck!”

At dynami, we’re proud of the fact we’ve never once in our 20 years in business blown a budget. Yes, many [well, most] budgets change along the way but these amendments are delineated, approved, and signed-for in advance to ensure there are never any non-approved, incremental expenditures. As your partner, we proactively identify and target cost-savings early in the planning process and, along the way, never stop looking for creative and effective ways to stretch your dollar so you can deliver maximum impact.


Kenneth Jones