It’s Walt Disney World’s unofficial fifth gate and host to 10s of thousands of athletes a year and now a new multi-purpose arena will provide a specially designed home for cheerleading, dance, and arena based sport competitions. This is a welcome addition that will move some of these events from monopolizing in-park facilities while providing competitors the sort of world-class facilities they deserve.
The new arena was dedicated as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The 220-acre Disney sports venue is widely regarded as the leading facility for youth sports in America.
ESPN Wide World of Sports executives, along with AAU and Varsity executives, marked the grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured streamers as cheerleaders performed a high-energy routine involving Minnie Mouse, who sported a new cheerleader outfit. Fittingly, the inaugural event at The Arena at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is the prestigious UCA and UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship, which runs through Sunday.
In the coming months and years, the 8,000-seat arena will host a variety of major indoor sporting events, everything from basketball to volleyball to gymnastics to wrestling. The venue also will host runDisney Health & Fitness Expos during runDisney race weekends, beginning with the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend presented by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in February.
The launch of the arena, the third indoor competition venue at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and one of the largest in the country designed specifically with cheer and dance events in mind, marks another milestone for the Disney sports facility, which opened in 1997 and pioneered a new type of sports vacation experience where athletes at all levels and ages can pursue their sports dreams.
“We have created one of the most unique sports arenas in the country,” said Faron Kelley, Vice President of Disney Sports. “We sat down and really listened to what our partners told us they needed the space to look like and what we ended up with is a fantastic new arena. We look forward to hosting many events in our new building for years to come.”
One of the unique features of the arena is its flexibility. It can be converted to host more than six regulation-sized basketball and volleyball courts and can be further expanded to host open-floor exhibitions, family shows, speaking engagements and other major events, such as the College Cheerleading and Dance Team Championship, which will feature more than 4,700 athletes.
“We are thrilled to have our 35th College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship as the inaugural event in the new arena,” said Varsity Brands Founder and Chairman Jeff Webb. “This year, we’ll host seven premier events and welcome nearly 70,000 athletes to ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Our athletes and coaches are going to be very excited when they see the space, the warm-up areas and all of the other amenities that truly make this building one of a kind. We’re looking forward to a fantastic event, in a great building that’s being hosted by a terrific partner in Disney.”
Other features of the new arena include two versatile auxiliary venue spaces, an attached box office, plus built-in loges and judge’s boxes with seating for approximately 70 people. There are also seven concession stands and 35 concession points of sale which will include specialty items such as hazelnut churros, chocolate banana empanadas, donut chicken, Greek Dogs, and an Adobo Chicken Rice Bowl.
“We spent countless hours doing research to make sure we designed a building that caters to the needs of existing partners and potential future partners, including developing sports such as e-sports and futsal,” Kelley said. “The word we kept coming back to was flexibility and our new arena has something special and unique for all of our partners.”
The addition of the arena is another step in Disney’s efforts to expand its sports business through a relentless growth strategy centered on enhancing existing events, developing new and more diverse events such as tournaments, competitions and entertainment and creating additional sports experiences for our guests.
Future plans for the sports complex include expanding the portfolio of outdoor sports, continuing to host high-profile events such as the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl Week and further supporting the 100-plus existing events that take place at the sports complex year around.