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Hoops and hoopla highlight ESPN Wide World of Sports’ grand re-opening

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Hoops and hoopla highlight ESPN Wide World of Sports’ grand re-opening

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"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Ah, but when Shakespeare wrote that over 400 years ago, he was talking about teenage romance. Not two hugely successful divisions of this massive corporation that – while they had been working together for more than 15 years at this point – hadn’t quite figured how to move things to the next level.

“This all started about two years ago,” Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises, remembered. “In fact, it was in George Bodenheimer (i.e. co-chairman of Disney Media Network and president of ESPN)’s conference room. Where we were sitting together, both Walt Disney World people and ESPN people. And we were going ‘Guys, We’re two very strong brands. We’re two powerful entities within the Disney Company. We’re both good at what we do. But why are we not working together more?’”

Ken Potrock, George Bodenheimer, Mickey Mouse, Al Weiss and Meg Crofton at last night's celebration of the relaunch of the ESPN Wild World of Sports complex
(L to R) Ken Potrock, George Bodenheimer, Mickey Mouse, Al Weiss and Meg
Crofton at last night’s celebration of the re-launch of the ESPN Wide
World of Sports complex. Photo by David Roark.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

“George asked that question and Al (Weiss, president of worldwide operations of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts) asked that question and Meg (Crofton, President of The Walt Disney World Resort) asked that question,” Potrock continued. “And we’re like ‘Hello? We gotta figure this out.’”

“So we started to go through the list of what made the most sense. For us to increase engagement. And the easy ones are ‘Well, let’s do an event here.’ But that’s just a weekend or a week. And we wanted more than that. The people at the Resort and the folks back in Bristol wanted to figure out a way that we could all work together 365 days a year.”

“ Now I’m not a rocket scientist,” Ken laughed. “But how can you own the most powerful brand in sports and be in the sports facility business and not leverage that? So (renaming / rebranding Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex)became a pretty natural ‘A-ha!’ And we started working from that perspective.”

The globe at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World
Photo by Nancy Stadler

And all of that behind-the-scenes effort finally paid off last night, as the leading multi-sport venue for amateur and professional events made the world aware of its new moniker by holding a Hollywood-style premiere at this 220-acre complex.

Celebrities and sports stars like Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson …

Gymnast and Dancing with the Stars winner Shawn Johnson hobbled down the Green carpet at last  night's ESPN event
Shawn Johnson at last night’s event. Photo by Nancy Stadler

… strolled up an Astro turf carpet, signing autographs and posing for photographs as fan screamed from the sidelines.

And then, after a pre-opening ceremony -- where Florida governor Charlie Christ spoke about how important the destination sports industry was to the state. How it poured $36 billion annually into the state’s economy and provided 400,000 jobs for Florida residents – it was time to officially kick things off at this revamped WDW facility.

And who better to kick things off at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex than Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley. So – with Minnie Mouse serving as his enthusiastic assistant …

Minnie Mouse assisted Garret Hartley with a kick over the gate of ESPN Wide World of Sports
Photo by Garth Vaughn. Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

… Garrett booted a football over the re-designed entrance to this 220-acre complex. And after fireworks flew up in the sky …

Crowds waded through confetti to see the Harlem Globetrotters
Photo by Nancy Stadler

… crowds waded through a sea of confetti to watch the Harlem Globetrotters play as well as check out many of the new features that have recently been installed at this venue.

It was a sea of confetti after the perfect kickoff at the ESPN Wide World of Sports
Photo courtesy of Brad Powell

These included the 40 high-definition video screens (including three jumbo screens) that have been placed around the complex. Not to mention the PlayStation Pavilion, which is designed to entertain guests inbetween competitions and on-site tournaments.

The playstation lounge at the new ESPN Wide World of Sports
Photo by Nancy Stadler

There isn’t an aspect of the ESPN Wide World of Sports that hasn’t been touched by this relaunch / rebranding. Everything from all the new signage around this complex to the colorful new costumes that Cast Members are now wearing, there’s a new look, feel and energy to the place. And did I mention the cool new trophies & medals that Jostens designed for the place?

Jostins made special trophys and medals for the new ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World
Photo by Nancy Stadler

So don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is just a case of Disney slapping the ESPN name on its Wide World of Sports complex and thinking that this alone will be enough to convince Guests to now come experience the place. There’s so much more to that to this redo. Like that 2,500-square-foot Production Center that they just had built on site with direct links to ESPN facilities back in Bristol, Conn., New York and Los Angeles. Not to the ESPN Emerging Technology Lab. Which will allow this Sports network to develop and then field-test innovative new on-air applications right there on site.

So the next time you’re down at Walt Disney World, why not make a point of dropping by the ESPN Wide World of Sports and checking out all the changes. Which – Ken Potrock hopes -- will become renown for being the place where “ … athletes walk in loving sports and walk out knowing sports loves them back.”

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