At one point before the economic collapse caused by Wall Street playing loose and fast with credit default swaps and our nation’s real estate market, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex was on target for a sizable expansion. A couple more practice fields, new athlete facilities, a closer tie with the mothership in Bristol, CT., and a 100+ lane bowling alley.
I’ll admit that I was most enthused about the bowling alley. True, it would be host to major tournaments most of the year, but some of the lanes would be available for use by the average Jane or Joe off the street. That would have been the first non-dining facility where a guest could partake instead of watch. Sadly, the main sponsor of that pavilion was a real estate mogul and they lost their shirts in the great recession. So there went that. Hope springs eternal though that they’ll bring in a bowling alley, lawn darts, foosball, something that the average guest can walk-in and feel like “Hey, ESPN WWOS is for me too. Maybe I could be an ESPN star one day too.”
That’s the promise of ESPN WWOS and I told you that story to tell you that the expansion of Walt Disney World’s unheralded fifth gate is back on. Only this time it will be a new multi-use sports and entertainment venue that will host a number of sports (volleyball, basketball, etc) but primarily for cheerleading and dance team competitions.
The over 8,000 guest capacity arena will also be configurable to concerts and other events. This will help ESPN WWOS continue to grow its sports business but also add some new capabilities.
ESPN Wide World of Sports is planning to team up with the nation’s top cheerleading organization, Varsity Spirit, to create the first venue in the world specifically designed for cheerleading and dance team competitions. The venue will include a flexible design for one large competition space that can be set up for as many as four competition areas. Additional areas are being tailored for warm up and practice, along with areas for judges and officials.
“As our sports business continues to grow, we’re thrilled to work alongside Varsity Spirit to create a sporting and entertainment venue that will not only complement our existing venues, but will be a model for cheerleading and dance team competitions,” said Maribeth Bisienere, senior vice president of ESPN Wide World of Sports. “We value our young athletes and want to give these incredible guests an experience that can only be achieved at Disney.”
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and Varsity Spirit will continue to host the world’s most prestigious cheerleading events at the complex, including Varsity Spirit’s annual National High School Cheerleading Championships. This event draws more than 650 teams from more than 30 states and is the only National Championship endorsed by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Winning a coveted white satin National Champion jacket is seen as the pinnacle of success for thousands of cheerleaders from across the country.
“Varsity Spirit invented the modern day cheerleading and dance competition, and we are proud to be the force behind this project, which represents our commitment to providing the very best and safest environment in the world for our athletes and coaches,” said Jeff Webb, Founder and Chairman of Varsity Brands. “Since this building has been designed specifically for spirit teams, we can’t wait to provide an even more high quality competition experience to thousands of athletes each year.”
ESPN WWOS has hosted a lot of dance and cheer competitions over the years, but they also over overflowed into the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular theater. Let the speculation begin that this move might enable Disney’s Hollywood Studios to close the EPIC theater as soon as mid-2017, perhaps replaced with a new Indiana Jones attraction that will be tied to the revived Indiana Jones movie franchise that Lucasfilm promises us is on the way. Okay, that’s just a rumor. But you can say you heard it here first.
Construction is slated to begin in February 2016, and is expected to be complete by mid- 2017.