The NBA decides on Thursday how the resumption of the world’s top basketball league will take place. Among other news, the main one is the fact that the games are held at a fixed location, at Disney. But, pirates singing and whirling cups of tea. Mickey Mouse shaped waffles. Incredibly chatty employees singing “Have a magic day”. Baby carriage bottling. Seems like a good place for sports?
Walt Disney World is known for many things, but few people would immediately associate it with sport, unless you think long walks are proof of endurance or take seriously the Super Bowl winners who happily exclaim their intention to visit Disney – a marketing strategy that started in 1987. But hidden behind oaks and palm trees at the southern end of Florida’s mega resort, is ESPN Wide World of Sports, a nearly 1 square kilometer complex of basketball, football, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball and a lot of competition that serves as an engine almost unnoticed by the Disney World movement – and that should soon be the capital of the basketball universe.
The NBA is in talks with Disney to restart its season, conducting training and games at the complex. Players, coaches and employees would also stay at Disney World, where Disney has 18 hotels, forming a strong protective bubble against the coronavirus. The yellow-walled sports complex that once hosted the Jr. NBA Global Championship has been vacant since March 15, when Disney World closed its doors due to the pandemic, causing Disney to lay off more than 43,000 Florida workers .
“Obviously, we have the capacity to host this type of event,” said Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, by phone last week. He added that he was “very optimistic” to strike a deal with the league. Chapek noted that the ESPN complex has transmission capabilities “for immediate use”, such as ultra-fast-speed fiber optic connection to ESPN’s Connecticut headquarters. Disney-owned ESPN is one of the NBA’s main broadcast partners, which suspended the season on March 11.
Talks with Disney foresee the restart of the season in late July. “We hope to finalize these plans soon,” said Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman, in an email on Monday. Here are some things to consider as Disney and the league complete the deal:
What is the Wide World of Sports complex?
Everything at Disney World is colossal – at 100 square kilometers, it is almost twice the size of Manhattan – and its sports facilities are no exception. Three arenas can be set up on 20 basketball courts, according to Faron Kelley, vice president of ESPN Wide World of Sports, Water Parks and runDisney. This would make it possible for the NBA to play two games at the same time (without a crowd in the stands) and still have space for training.
The complex also offers restaurants, a nine-lane athletics complex, 17 grass playing fields and a 9,500-seat baseball stadium – which the Atlanta Braves used for its spring training for more than two decades. (They moved last year to a new camp near Sarasota, Florida. Disney was unable to find a new tenant).
“The Disney way of serving customers, of course, has been incorporated by everyone who works there,” said Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Florida’s DeVos Sport Business Management program, by telephone on Saturday.
How did the NBA choose Disney World?
The league thought of several locations, including the IMG Academy, the sports complex owned by Endeavor in Bradenton, Fla., But two places stood out on the list: Disney World and Las Vegas. In addition to security – to create that bubble – costs were also taken into account. It certainly did not go unnoticed by Adam Silver, the NBA taskmaster, that Disney is the league’s biggest customer, paying analysts an estimated $ 1.4 billion a year to broadcast games on ESPN and ABC. Disney World also gives players less chance of getting into trouble off the court.
Silver and Robert Iger, Disney’s chief executive who has been conducting negotiations on the company’s side, live what you might call a “bromance”. Last summer, they posed for photos – along with Mickey and Minnie – at the opening of the NBA Experience, a two-story interactive attraction at Disney Springs, an open-air Disney World mall. “Nobody better than Disney to create memorable experiences,” Silver said at the time.
What is the advantage for Disney?
Disney World’s four main theme parks will reopen in mid-July, but entry will be severely restricted, at least in the beginning. A deal with the NBA would give the resort a much needed boost of heart. It would bring employees back to work, convey the priceless marketing message that it is safe to visit the place and generate profits from the use of facilities and hotels. Analysts said the NBA will spend at least tens of millions of dollars.
But the real gain for Disney would come from ESPN, which is eager to broadcast live sports again. Media analyst Michael Nathanson recently estimated that ESPN would lose $ 481 million in advertising revenue if the NBA did not complete its season and playoffs. Lapchick characterized the agreement as “a great win-win game” for the league and Disney.
Where will the players stay at the resort?
Sports fans are having fun just imagining how Disney World accommodations can be distributed. Will the best ranked players get the most luxurious ones, like the $ 1,150 per night lakefront home at Disney’s Grand Floridian? A blog suggested that the New York Knicks set up tents at Fort Wilderness, the resort’s campsite, at $ 102 (R $ 515) a night. There!
Disney and the NBA have not commented, but there is no chance that players will be spread across a dozen hotels. The league will use only one or two. The Four Seasons, with 443 rooms, is at the top of the list. It is located in a closed and ultra-exclusive area, near the center of Disney World, called Golden Oak.
What about the Major League football?
The professional football league (MLS) also talked to Disney about possible return to game scenarios, but there are disagreements within the league about when to get back on the pitch and payments.
An initial proposal predicted that teams would be isolated within Disney World from the beginning of this month. Players would train for a few weeks before resuming games in August. Now, the league – after a backlash from the MLS Players’ Association – could see some teams regroup in their training centers before settling at Disney World in early July for a tournament that would last several weeks. A league spokesman declined to comment.
MLS would bring at least 1,200 people to the resort. One of the possible accommodations: Coronado Springs, a Disney hotel with 2,345 rooms that normally hosts conventions. It underwent a renovation and expansion last year. Coronado is also quite isolated: there are no adjacent hotels, as is the case elsewhere in Disney World. ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision own the football broadcasting rights. MLS has been suspended since March 12. / TRANSLATION OF RENATO PRELORENTZOU