The sports facility formerly known as Disney’s Wide World of Sports was officially re-launched as ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex last Thursday, Feb. 25, in an elaborate Hollywood-style “turf carpet” event that featured celebrities, Florida’s governor, ESPN on-air commentators and sports stars from the NFL, MLB, LPGA, Olympics and more.
Shawn Johnson (Olympic gold medal gymnast), Chad Ochocinco (Cincinnati Bengals), Jennie Finch (Olympic softball gold medalist), Santonio Holmes (Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl MVP) and Annika Sorenstam (LPGA) were among the star athletes who joined popular ESPN on-air personalities on the green carpet with yard lines resembling a football field. Minnie Mouse helped New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley officially re-launch the 220-acre sports complex when he booted a football over the re-designed complex entrance amid fireworks and a sea of confetti. Immediately afterwards, Mickey Mouse led a throng of youth and pro athletes – representing the 60-plus sports held at the complex – through a huge ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex banner draped over the entrance.
Afterwards, the celebrities, athletes and ESPN personalities attended a special reception at the complex’s re-themed ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill, followed by a special performance by the Harlem Globetrotters that featured Hartley, Sorenstam, Maurice Jones-Drew, Brandi Chastain and ESPN radio personalities Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, who served as honorary assistant coaches. The game, called by ESPN’s “SportsNation” co-hosts Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle, aired Friday on ESPN2.
“At ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, we are giving America’s youth athletes a one-of-a-kind youth sports experience that leaves them feeling as if they have reached the big time and made it onto ESPN,” said Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises.
Disney and ESPN have added many technological and experiential enhancements designed to replicate the signature elements of ESPN throughout the complex, including 56 high-definition cameras (42 robotic, 10 handheld and four studio), 40 high-definition video screens at 17 locations (including three jumbo screens) and a 2,500-square-foot Production Center with links to ESPN facilities in Bristol, Conn., New York and Los Angeles. Also, there is a 20-zone audio system, a welcome center, a huge complex marquee and the Innovation Lab where the ESPN Emerging Technology group is testing and developing innovative new on-air applications.
In addition, Disney is looking to add some downtime activities for the young athletes who may have long breaks between games. The first of such is The Playstation Pavillion, which opened on Thursday as well. The Pavilion features 17 PlayStation3 systems, including a SingStar stage, and a collection of just-released game titles. Many additional expansion plans are in development, including a planned 100-lane bowling facility. No time frame has been given for the bowling center.
Another new addition to the complex is a Custom Tee Center by Champion. Athletes can take their event tee to the Custom Tee Center and choose from more than 50 designs that can be added to their shirt, such as “1st Place”, “Champions”, “Team Captain”, “Team Mom” and more. The designs come in a variety of sizes and range from $1.95 to $4.95 and the T-shirt will be complete in less than 15 minutes. In addition to the main location near the Grill, mobile centers will be set up around the complex.
Disney Sports annually stages more than 300 events and has accommodated approximately 60 different sports involving athletes from more than 70 countries. Among those events are Atlanta Braves spring training, Chelsea Football Club events, the Pop Warner Super Bowl, AAU National Championships, Varsity Cheer events, the World Cheerleading Championships, the ESPN RISE Games, USSSA events and the Walt Disney World Marathon. ESPN televises dozens of sporting events from the complex, and Walt Disney World Resort and ESPN also annually work together to host the popular ESPN The Weekend presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Keep scrolling for videos and photos from the grand opening ceremonies.