Sphere welcomes 2024 NHL Draft picks with spectacular show | NHL.com (2024)

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Las Vegas venue hosts draft for 1st time, dazzles players with immersive video experience

Sphere welcomes 2024 NHL Draft picks with spectacular show | NHL.com (1)

© Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

By Nicholas J. Cotsonika

@cotsonika NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- Macklin Celebrini heard his name called by the San Jose Sharks at the 2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft on Friday, then walked into a scene unlike any the League had created before.

As the center hugged his parents, the Sharks logo was onscreen behind the stage. The draft order rose above it in a single column, curving up, up, up the wall to the top of the ceiling of Sphere.

To see Celebrini’s name at No. 1, you had to crane your neck.

Everywhere the sellout crowd of 14,220 looked, there was something to see -- sharp graphics, twinkling lights, the Sharks’ name, their colors of teal and orange, a live video of Celebrini, a feast of eye candy. The song “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac sounded crisp, clear and loud.

As Celebrini walked up on stage, the display changed. Now he loomed in his Boston University jersey, larger than life. An Upper Deck hockey card of him with the Sharks was on the left. A highlight video played in a box to the right.

Finally, as he pulled on his actual Sharks jersey, the display changed again. A massive virtual Sharks jersey with his name on the back filled the screen. His autograph signed itself in the black space to the right. Below was a message: “WELCOME TO THE NHL."

“Oh, it’s amazing,” Celebrini said. “I mean, it’s truly one of a kind, the technology and all that they have here.”

Macklin Celebrini drafted by San Jose Sharks

Sphere is spectacular. The brainchild of New York Rangers owner James Dolan, the $2.3 billion immersive entertainment venue opened on the Las Vegas Strip with a U2 residency on Sept. 29, 2023.

Even in a glitzy city like Vegas, it stands out.

It is the world’s largest spherical building, 366 feet tall, and it is wrapped with the world’s largest LED screen, 580,000 square feet of LEDs. The Exosphere is so bold and bright that it can be seen from space. People peek out of airplane windows as they land at and take off from the airport nearby.

Inside is the world’s highest-resolution LED screen, playing 16K content that wraps up, over and behind the audience. One hundred sixty-eight thousand speakers create 360-degree audio optimized for every seat.

The NHL often thinks outside the box, putting outdoor games everywhere from stadiums to the shores of Lake Tahoe, coming up with NHL All-Star Skills events in places like the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas and Fort Lauderdale Beach in South Florida.

This is the first time, though, it has thought inside a Sphere. The first round of the 2024 NHL Draft was also the first live broadcast event for a major sports league at the facility. Rounds 2-7 will be Saturday (11:30 a.m. ET; ESPN+, NHLN, SN, SN1).

The content that would work inside a typical arena with big screens wouldn’t work here, so Sphere Studios collaborated with the NHL to create custom content inside and outside. For the first time, content inside was optimized for the TV audience as well as the venue audience, and live events were incorporated into real-time content outside.

NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer and his staff put in countless hours to make it happen. After the Florida Panthers won the Stanley Cup at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida, on Monday, Mayer flew overnight to Las Vegas for an early morning rehearsal at Sphere on Tuesday.

“We’ve set out to create the most amazing introduction to the NHL for these young players and their families in the most innovative venue in the world,” Mayer said.

Watch drone footage of the inside of the Sphere

Photos don’t do it justice, because cameras don’t have lenses wide enough.

Before the draft began, a huge, relatively simple box hovered over the stage with video, text and graphics. The rest of the interior sat dark.

Then it was as if the building froze in the middle of a 106-degree Las Vegas day, ice crystals climbing the walls and covering the ceiling. The draft logo appeared with the logos of the NHL’s 32 teams.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took the stage, headshots of potential draft picks appearing in an endless checkerboard pattern.

“Our thanks to James Dolan for welcoming us into his creation and to all of the talented people at Sphere for helping us make the 62nd NHL Draft the most dazzling yet,” the Commissioner told the crowd as part of his opening remarks.

Michigan State defenseman Artyom Levshunov took in the spectacle as the Sharks selected Celebrini, then became the center of attention when the Chicago Blackhawks took him at No. 2.

“I’ve never been to Vegas,” Levshunov said. “It’s my first time. It’s so unreal.”

Forward Beckett Sennecke from Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League watched the first two picks, not expecting the Anaheim Ducks to select him at No. 3.

“The technology is just pretty advanced in here,” he said, smiling. “Obviously, it cost, [$2.3 billion] to build, so they better have some good technology.”

But then the Ducks called his name, and amid everything, the experience was like it always is for the draft picks.

A blur.

“Yeah, honestly, looking back on it, I don’t really remember much,” he said. “I kind of just blacked out.”

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Sphere welcomes 2024 NHL Draft picks with spectacular show | NHL.com (2024)
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