Disney Sports Complex will soon be ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

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Walt Disney Co’s sports complex in central Florida will be renamed in February after its ESPN unit, in a move to strengthen the well-known sports brand’s ties with young athletes.

The shift — plans for which were announced about a year ago — targets the 500,000 athletes and 1.5 million spectators who annually visit the 220-acre multisport complex near Disney’s theme park in Orlando, Florida, officials said.

“ESPN is doing this because they want to get closer to the fan and in particular they want to get closer to the youth athlete,” Ken Potrock, Disney’s senior vice president of global sports, said in a telephone interview.

“The youth athlete is the pipeline for tomorrow for ESPN and their ability to build an association and loyalty among that constituency, both male and female, is a major opportunity,” he added.

The 10-year-old complex will be renamed the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on February 25 and ESPN will use its on-air talent to customize and personalize the experience for the athletes, many in the highly desired 8-to-17 age range, Potrock said.

The hope is they become ESPN fans young and at the same time their families visit the nearby Walt Disney World park, stay in Disney hotels, eat at Disney-owned restaurants and buy Disney merchandise, he said.

“It kind of falls into the ‘duh’ category, which is when you own one of if not the most powerful brand in sports, ESPN, what could you do to leverage that brand?” Potrock said.

A large majority of those who visit the sports complex, paying admission and team registration fees, also go to the theme park, he said.

If attendance rises at the sports complex, Potrock said Disney has hundreds of acres of land to expand. Attendance has not declined during the recession as parents splurge on the experience of having their children play in football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and other sports tournaments.

To create a compelling experience, the company has 40 digital boards and Jumbotron screens around the property that will show clips of action at the complex, narrated by ESPN on-air personalities, Potrock said. Visitors also will be able to view game action at the complex on a dedicated TV channel in any one of Disney’s 27,000 hotel rooms at the nearby resort.

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