Disney Eyes Entry Into Esports In Orlando
Media giant Disney is considering entering the burgeoning esports arena by hosting video games championships at its colossal leisure complex in Florida.
Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando is most famous for its four theme parks but it is also home to one of the world’s most innovative sports facilities. It bears the name of ESPN, the sports broadcasting behemoth owned by the Hearst Corporation and The Walt Disney Company, which holds an 80% stake.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex spans 220 acres and has facilities for hosting over 70 types of sports. There’s an 11,500-seat ballpark, four multi-sports fields, a track and field complex, a six-field softball complex, 10 tennis courts and two indoor arenas with the flagship big enough to accommodate 12 volleyball courts. It has a unique business model which has stood the test of time as the complex celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
The facilities at the Wide World of Sports are all aimed at hosting youth events to capture a piece of the sports tourism market. As the athletes are young they inevitably come with their family members who watch them. That brings business to Disney’s on-site hotels and its parks as the competitors and their families tend to visit them once the events are over.
The revenue of the sports complex itself comes from event registration, gate sales, merchandise, food and beverage and event and facility sponsorship. Last year around 140 events were held at the Wide World of Sports ranging from high school spring training to the Disney Soccer Showcase which is the biggest youth soccer tournament in the United States featuring more than 500 teams from over 20 countries.
The events don’t just take place when Disney World is busy but are also cleverly timed to coincide with the slower times of the year. In December there’s the Soccer Showcase and between January and November Disney World hosts four marathons which are known as runDisney race weekends. They are the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side, the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend and the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend. These events boost attendance when the parks would usually be quieter.
Disney welcomes the competitors and their families with open arms and even creates bespoke packages for them. For example, they can get discounted park tickets valid after 2pm which is useful if they have been training in the morning.
It has had the magic touch as Disney’s research shows the majority of the 150,000 athletes, coaches and fans who come to the Wide World of Sports annually would not have visited the parks if it were not for the sports complex. To keep thes results sparkling Faron Kelley, Vice President of Sports at Disney World, has his eye on the latest trends. This is why esports are on his radar.
“We are trying to keep up with what sports are breaking and how we can be involved in them,” says Mr Kelley. “Esports is a big one we are looking at and are very excited about it.” It has an ideal home.
In January next year the Wide World of Sports will throw the doors open to a new 8,000-seat 300,000 square feet multi-purpose indoor stadium which is more than four times bigger than its current flagship. Disney collaborated with Varsity Spirit, the nation’s top cheer-leading organization, on the design of the stadium which will be the world’s first venue aimed at hosting cheer and dance team events. That’s just the start.
“It is exciting because it isn’t just cheer, it’s basketball, it’s volleyball, it’s eSports with gaming. We are absolutely looking at e-sports and it’s a wonderful venue for that,” says Mr Kelley.
It may seem hard to believe, but the top esports events attract as many as 40,000 spectators who watch the competitors play video games against each other. Tens of millions more follow the matches live online and it has made it a rich industry in just a matter of years.
The biggest payouts are at The International Dota 2 Championship as its purse comes to $20,770,460 which is roughly double that of The Masters. The exposure has attracted some of the world’s most well-known brands with Coca-Cola sponsoring the League of Legends World Championships and insurer Geico lending its brand to a ‘pro-tip’ series on Major League Gaming’s MLG.tv.
According to a report by accountancy firm Deloitte, the esports industry generated an estimated $500 million of global revenue in 2016, up 25% on the previous year. It is explosive growth but the total is still just a fraction of the amount made by traditional sports such as the English Premier League and Formula One auto racing which had revenue of $2.4 billion and $1.8 billion respectively last year.