Written by Christopher Wood:
Christopher Wood- As the years have gone by, the Disney corporation has extended its reach through the purchasing of several other entertainment companies. From Marvel to LucasFilm to the Muppets, Disney has acquired brands that expand their reach to audiences that may not normally be enticed by their typical fare. One of their most notable acquisitions, through their partnership with ABC, is the ESPN family of networks (ESPN2, ESPNU, the SEC Network, etc.). It’s easy to see how this partnership fits in with ABC; their sporting events are done under the ESPN banner and feature the same commentators and analysts that ESPN uses. But how has Disney tried to tie itself into the ESPN brand?
One fun way has been through cross-promotion. ESPN airs a series of wildly popular advertisements, ostensibly for Sports Center, but really to promote ESPN as a whole. The “This Is Sports Center” ads featured a Disney connection in 2013 when the Swedish Chef was hired to work in the ESPN cafeteria. New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist joins the exclusive list of people who actually can understand the Swedish Chef. Perhaps Croonchy Stars will find themselves on the breakfast menu someday soon.
Other efforts have been decidedly mixed over the years. The Wide World of Sports Complex, a part of Walt Disney World, at the Resort in Bay Lake, Florida has numerous stadiums and fields, and hosts the Atlanta Braves in spring training, along with their Gulf Coast League minor league baseball team. It has also hosted the Old Spice Classic, in a joint venture with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, since 2006. This in-season college basketball tournament features teams from the top conferences in America each year, and was won last year by the University of Memphis. This year’s tournament includes such top-notch schools as Kansas, Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Marquette. While it can be tough to set itself apart in the increasingly busy and over-stuffed non-conference college basketball season, the Old Spice Classic has been able to carve out a niche for itself due to consistently strong competition and teams.
However, the Wide World of Sports complex lacks prestigious events aside from that. It has a high volume of high school sports events, which certainly provide an excellent showcase for athletes looking to display their skills to college coaches, but lack the cache to move the needle when it comes to national attention. High school sports do not grab the ratings that college and professional sports do, and ESPN only sporadically airs football and basketball games, often opposite college sporting events. While it is too much to expect professional teams to give up a home game to do something at the Wide World of Sports complex, it is clear that ESPN could do more to boost the brand of the complex.
One idea could be to have Disney sponsor a college football post-season bowl. There are currently over 35 bowl games, a majority of which air on the ESPN family of networks. Two of the bowl games, the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, play in the Citrus Bowl stadium right in Orlando, Florida. With the ease with which bowls change sponsor agreements and names, Disney could easily sponsor one of the bowls and tie it into the Wide World of Sports Complex. Both existing bowl games involve power conference teams (ACC/Big 12 for the Russell Athletic Bowl, Big Ten/SEC for the Citrus Bowl), many of which have built-in fan bases that would travel to the games, and being around the holidays allows for fans to take extended travel vacations. Disney could easily create a series of events around the bowl game at the complex, perhaps even bringing back parts of ESPN The Weekend, where ESPN would air programming live from the WWoS.
By sponsoring a bowl, Disney could easily promote its Wide World of Sports complex, while ensuring that the park and attractions at Walt Disney World proper would be exposed to people who are perhaps not as familiar with all the Disney attractions as their typical audience. It would also help ESPN find other venues to promote their college football coverage, and why wouldn’t they want to? Watching college football has become more and more popular, especially with being able to bet on matches on betting sites like FanDuel as an example. This would really enable them to make a mark in the sporting world, and continue to push their brand to new audiences.