Disney Outlines Growth Strategy for Sports Business

Changes to benefit guests, the community and business

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – With the sports tourism industry expanding by $200 million last year, Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex outlined plans to further grow its business and bring new visitors to Central Florida.

The strategy includes plans to expand facilities, enhance existing events, diversify the Complex’s events portfolio and create more one-of-a-kind, immersive sports experiences that only Disney can provide.

Expansion plans for the complex reflect a nationwide trend in which more youth are participating in sports and are willing to travel longer distances for competition. Last year in the United States, the sports tourism industry grew from $700 million to $900 million, with an overall economic impact of $6.1 billion.

“Our goal is to be recognized as the pre-eminent multi-sports venue for amateur and professional sports and create events that benefit guests, the community and business,” said Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises. “Each year, Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex draws more than a million spectators who might not otherwise visit Central Florida, resulting in a significant economic benefit to our region.”

At the center of the complex’s growth strategy are plans announced earlier this year to re-brand Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex as ESPN Wide World of Sports, aligning the world’s No. 1 family vacation destination with the worldwide leader in sports.

“Through the collaboration of two powerful brands we will be able to help make the ultimate sports dreams come true for young athletes and further establish the Wide World of Sports Complex as the place to compete and watch sports,” said Potrock. “Athletes will be able to compete and train on world-class fields and courts and be immersed in an experience that only Disney and ESPN can provide.’

Creative teams are still in the early stages of working together to bring this experience to life. Initial concepts involve incorporating many signature elements of ESPN, such as sports programming, sports events, breaking news, on-air talent and sports celebrities to complement the event management and renowned hospitality already evident at the Sports Complex.

As part of this commitment to growth, Potrock announced that Disney Sports and ESPNare creating a week-long, multi-sport event planned for July 2009 that will feature some of the top high school athletes in the country. The ESPN RISE Sports Festival, scheduled for July 18 to 25, will involve more than 2,000 young athletes, many of whom are among the most heavily recruited in the nation, competing in six sports – softball, baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse and track & field – at the Wide World of Sports Complex. The competition will be televised live on ESPNU and other ESPN Web outlets.

This growing demand in sports tourism has prompted expansion plans throughout the Sports Complex, including several announcements this year.

— Earlier this summer, the sports complex opened Jostens Center, a new state-of-the-art field house that will enable Disney to accommodate twice as many indoor sports events each year such as basketball, volleyball, wrestling, cheerleading as well as other competitions.

— In June, the complex announced plans to partner with Osceola County and the Central Florida Sports Commission to bring 13 United States Bowling Congress tournaments to Osceola County – each of which could bring 70,000 to 85,000 athletes and spectators to Central Florida. As part of this agreement, Disney will make land available for a new 100-lane bowling center that is large enough to accommodate the tournaments.

— In December 2007, the sports complex debuted additional outdoor playing fields for football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey competitions.

Each year, the Disney sports complex stages more than 180 events. Since its inception, the complex has hosted athletes from more than 70 countries involved in more than 50 different sports. “A majority of the athletes and spectators who compete in a Disney sports event are first-time visitors to Disney,” said Potrock. “In fact, roughly 85 percent of these guests would not have come to Disney if it weren’t for an event at our sports complex, and many of them, particularly coaches, are repeat visitors.”

For example, one of the largest events is the Walt Disney World Marathon, which draws nearly 80,000 runners and spectators to Central Florida annually, making the event the largest sports event in Central Florida and on-par with some of the area’s largest conventions. In addition, an overwhelming majority – nearly 90 percent of Marathon and Half-Marathon participants – travel from outside of CentralFlorida, which has an economic ripple on area hotels, restaurants, retailers and more.

Since Disney opened the sports complex in 1997, nearly 2 million athletes and enthusiasts have competed at the venue including many of the biggest names in amateur and professional sports, such as Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Mia Hamm, Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Serena Williams, Shaquille O’Neal and Pete Sampras, among others. In one year alone, Disney’s competition schedule includes more than:

— 3,000 basketball games
— 2,400 softball games
— 1,800 baseball games
— 3,900 soccer matches

The Wide World of Sports also hosts the Atlanta Braves spring training season, a Tampa Bay Rays regular-season series, the Major League Baseball Draft, the NBA Pre-Draft Camp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp, Chelsea Football Club-sponsored events, the Pop Warner Super Bowl, Amateur Athletic Union National Championships, Varsity All-Star Cheerleading competitions and USSSA events. ESPN televised 20 sporting events from the complex in the last year. Walt Disney World Resort and ESPN also annually work together to host the popular ESPN The Weekend event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Debra Martin Koma wrote about food, travel and lifestyle issues for a number of local and national publications before she fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit — when she was 34! She's returned to her Laughing Place more times than she can count in the ensuing years, and enthusiastically shares her passion with readers of AllEars.Net and AllEars®. Deb also co-authored (along with Deb Wills) PassPorter's Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line, a travel guide designed for all travelers to Walt Disney World who may require special attention, from special diets to mobility issues.

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