Walt Disney World Resort's "Wide World of Sports" complex is hoping for a booster shot from a new partnership with another Disney Co. property: ESPN. The effort, launching Feb. 25, puts the ESPN brand in the title, on the hood, and just about everywhere else in the complex, while putting events hosted there on ESPN.
The venue, which will soon be called "ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex," will also have a phalanx of ESPN HD video cameras, HD screens and jumbotrons for videotaping and broadcasting of competitions taking place at the complex. Plus, a new 2,500-square-foot ESPN broadcast center and a broadcast Innovation Lab for testing new digital technology.
Chris Brush, vice president, marketing at ESPN, says the "re-imaging" of Disney's sports venues will go beyond the title to include the brand's presence from the moment that athletes, fans and families arrive at the main entrance, which will have an immense ESPN Wide World of Sports globe of the Earth center stage.
The avenue that extends from there -- to be festooned with ESPN banners -- leads to a central square that will have a giant video display that plays a Sports Center-style welcome from ESPN Sports Center personalities like Linda Cohn.
The 220-acre complex, which is a training camp for pro teams like the Atlanta Braves and the Chelsea Football Club, will also host ESPN-branded events, competitions and channels like "ESPN The Weekend," "ESPN Rise," "ESPNU" college sports events, and ESPN360.com, the network's broadband channel.
Brush said there will be some 10,000 participants in ESPN Rise events at the complex next year. The network's Innovation Lab will develop new digital and broadcast platforms and content, like a nascent ESPN/EA virtual playbook. Beyond the complex, Disney World's 27,000 or so hotel rooms will have a dedicated ESPN Wide World of Sports channel.
Other elements include a new ESPN Wide World of Sports grill, which will have live remote capabilities and HD TV screens.
"Our objective is to create the feeling for athletes that when they compete, they have made it to the big time -- that they have made it onto ESPN," says Ken Potrock, SVP, Disney Sports Entertainment. He adds that the venue -- which Disney developed for around $100 million in 1997 -- hosts some 200 events in 60 different sports, and brings in some 1.5 million spectators and 500,000 athletes from 70 countries annually. He adds they "wouldn't have come to Disney World if it weren't for the competition."
Among the competitions now held at the complex are the AAU National Championships, (Amateur Athletic Union), Pop Warner Super Bowl, Varsity Cheer events and world championship, the Disney Soccer Showcase and a series of endurance events.
According to Potrock, who says the newly revamped complex will come with a full roster of brand sponsorships, the venue has performed well despite the downturn due to positive trends in athletics. "The tourism industry's fastest-growing trend is youth sports travel," he says. "The second trend is toward health awareness, and the third is the growth in female athletics."
About 7.3 million kids play high school sports, about 54% of high school students, per the Women's Sports Foundation. The U.S. Travel Association says 27% of trips of over 100 miles round trip were sports-related -- exclusive of golf, fishing or other recreational sports.
Potrock says that in a recession, parents will sacrifice just about anything except their kids' athletic endeavors. Which means the sports complex business has been recession-resilient. "It's been tough, but we've still had one of our best years," he says. The economy is making parents cut the number of competitions their kids attend, but Disney never "falls off that list."
That's because Disney's sports venues offer a chance for what he calls double-dipping: going to Disney to compete and staying to have a fun vacation.