The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a 220-acre (89 ha) multi-purpose sports complex located at the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida, United States which includes nine venues and hosts numerous professional and amateur sporting events throughout the year.
In reference to the weekly ABC Sports television show, Wide World of Sports, the complex was originally known as Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex from 1997 until 2010 when it was re-branded with Disney's ESPN trademark on February 25, 2010. The complex is a part of the sports tourism emerging market. The complex is mainly used for AAU tournaments; however, many prominent professional sporting events have taken place here, including the restart to the 2019–20 NBA season, MLS is Back Tournament, 2016 Invictus Games, Pro Bowl skills competition from 2017 to 2020, 1997 U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships, and Atlanta Braves spring training from 1997 to 2019 among other events. The complex will host the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
Built to publicize Walt Disney World by growing the resort's position as a sports destination, the venue opened on March 28, 1997, with an exhibition baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds. On April 21–27, the main tennis courts hosted the U.S. Men's Clay Court Tennis Championships and a grand opening was held on May 15, 1997. The initial build out consisted of nine venues with a 10th, the Olympic velodrome, expected in the third quarter 1997. Initial tenants were Braves & its rookie team, the Harlem Globetrotters, NFL Experience, the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships, Amateur Athletic Union, Official All Star Café and Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.:2 Disney bid for the Florida state high school football finals for 1997 but lost to Gainesville. In June 1999, the complex made a deal with the Florida High School Activities Association to host the state prep volleyball championships at the Disney Fieldhouse for three years. USA Trampoline and Tumbling Championships was held at the complex the weekend of June 7, 1997.
A former baseball umpire and an architect alleged that they approached The Walt Disney Company in 1987 with plans for a sports complex, and that Wide World of Sports, which opened 10 years later, was heavily based on their designs. Disney claimed that, while the designs had some similarities, the complex was also similar to numerous other sporting facilities, and the concept of a sports park was too generic for any one group to claim ownership. The two men, represented in part by noted attorney Johnnie Cochran, sued Disney in Orange County civil court. In August 2000, a jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs with damages in the amount of $240 million, a fraction of the $1.5 billion sought. Disney appealed the judgment, and settled out of court in September 2002 for undisclosed terms.
With Planet Hollywood just out of bankruptcy, Disney offered to purchase its All Star Café located here in February 2000 and acquired the lease in March 2000. It became What's Next? Cafe in 2007 before being rebranded as ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill in 2010.
In August 2004, 20 acres of additional fields, four baseball diamonds with other multi-use fields, were added under the name of Hess Sports Fields. Plans for a 100 lane bowling stadium with restaurant was announced for the complex by Disney officials in May 2008. This stadium would be built and operated by a third party and was supposed to completed in 18 months. About 13 United States Bowling Congress tournaments were expected for facility.
During an ESPN the Weekend kick off event on February 25, 2010, the complex was rebranded as the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and received a massive upgrade, having installed HD video scoreboards at several venues, a new complex-wide audio system, and a broadcast production facility. New venues and activities at the complex included the PlayStation Pavilion and Custom Tee Center by Champion.
Prior to the rebranding in 2007, Disney announced a 450-acre Flamingo Crossings hotel-and-retail development which would be located near the area for complex visitors and budget-minded Disney World visitors. Shelved due to economic downturn, the project was revived with the 2013 sale of the property to first phase developer JL Properties Inc. of Alaska. An October 16, 2014, groundbreaking took place for the first phase, consisting of two Marriott International brand hotels which opened in January 2016.
In 2008 and 2009, the Disney Channel Games were held at the complex. From May 9 to May 11, 2014, a WNBA pre-season tournament consisting of four teams was held alongside an AAU girls basketball tournament at the complex, with the Minnesota Lynx winning the tournament over the Chicago Sky 76–69. While the Citrus Bowl was under repairs, the Orlando City Soccer Club played its 2014 home games at the complex.
In July 2015, it was announced that the 2016 Invictus Games would be held at the complex from May 8 to 12, 2016 with Prince Harry, Michelle Obama, and Morgan Freeman speaking at the Opening and Closing ceremony. Over 500 service members were in attendance, along with other notable public figures, including former United States President George W. Bush and Second Lady Jill Biden.
In early January 2018, The Arena opened at the complex as its third indoor multi-purpose sports and entertainment arena. Also that month, United States Specialty Sports Association left for the Space Coast Complex in Viera, Florida ending its use of ESPN's complex.
Since 2017, the Complex is host of the NFL Pro Bowl activities prior to the game. Besides having open practices for fans, ESPN broadcasts the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown, a series of head-to-head competitions between the players. According to event organizers, over the last four years, the Pro Bowl and festivities surrounding it have generated an estimated $100-million economic impact for Central Florida.
In March 2019, it was announced that Wide World of Sports would host the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
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