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Why the N.B.A. Planning to go to Disney World

Singing pirates and spinning teacups. Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles. Impossible tile chirps, "Have a magical day." Stroller gridlock.

Prominent sports arena?

Walt Disney World is known for many things, but few people will instantly associate it with athletics unless you count endurance walking or Super Bowl winners with pleasure expressing their intention to visit, a marketing gimmick that started in 1987. Hidden behind However, the oak trees and sabal palm trees on the south side of the Florida mega-resort, are ESPN Wide World of Sports, a 220-acre basketball, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball and competing cheer complex that acts as an overlooked Disney World engine ̵

1; and is expected soon to become the capital of the basketball universe.

The NBA has been in talks with Disney to restart the season by holding games and drills at the complex. Players, coaches and staff will also stay at Disney World, where Disney owns 18 hotels, and apparently provides a coronavirus protective bubble. The floor-walled sports complex, which has twice hosted Jr. N.B.A. The World Cup has been vacant since March 15, when Disney World closed due to the pandemic, causing Disney to accommodate more than 43,000 workers in Florida.

"We obviously have capacity," Bob Chapek, Disney's CEO, said by phone last week, adding that he was "very optimistic" about making a deal with the league. Chapek noted that the ESPN complex has "turnkey" broadcast capabilities, including an ultra-high-speed fiber optic connection to ESPN's Connecticut headquarters. Disney-owned ESPN is a top broadcast partner for N.B.A., which suspended the season on March 11.

The talks with Disney involve a restart in late July for the season. "We hope to complete the plans soon," said Mike Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman, it said in an email on Monday.

Here are some things to consider as Disney and the league complete a deal:

Everything about Disney World is tremendous – at 25,000 acres, nearly twice the size of Manhattan – and the sports facility is no exception. Three arenas can be configured for 20 basketball courts, according to Faron Kelley, vice president of ESPN Wide World of Sports, Water Parks and runDisney. This will allow the N.B.A. to play two games at the same time (no fans in the stands) and still have a practice space. The connection also offers restaurants, a nine-track athletics facility, 17 grass courts and a 9,500-seat baseball stadium, which the Atlanta Braves used for spring training for more than two decades. (They laid down last year for a new park near Sarasota, Florida. Disney has not secured a new tenant.)

"Disney-style customer care, of course, has been drilled in everyone who works there , "Richard Lapchick, director of the DeVos Sport Business Management program at the University of Central Florida, said by phone Saturday.

Relax. There are no judges wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

"You just want to see a nod and a wink to Disney characters," Kelley said. Outside the baseball stadium, for example, there is a statue of Mickey winding up to the field. His cat nemesis, Peg-Leg Pete, carries a bat nearby.

The facility, which has Spanish architecture (stucco exterior, arcades, roof tiles), is draped in ESPN red. ESPN uses the facility's 2,500-square-foot production center, which has eight editing spaces, for annual events such as the Orlando Invitational, an early-season basketball tournament.

The league considered a number of locations, including IMG Academy, the Endeavor-owned sports complex in Bradenton, Florida, but two places stood out on the list: Disney World and Las Vegas. In addition to security – it creates the bubble – costs were considered. Adam Silver, N.B.A. was not lost. commissioner, that Disney is the league's largest customer, and pays an analyst who is estimated to be $ 1.4 billion a year to broadcast games on ESPN and ABC. Disney World also has fewer opportunities for players to get into trouble off the field.

Silver and Robert A. Iger, Disney's CEO, who led the talks from the Disney side, have what you might call a bromance. Last summer, they posed for photos together – along with Mickey and Minnie – at the opening of NBA Experience, a two-story interactive attraction at Disney Springs, an outdoor mall in Disney World. "Disney creates memorable experiences better than anyone," Silver said at the time.

Disney World's four major theme parks will reopen in mid-July, but attendance will be severely limited, at. at least with the first. An agreement with the N.B.A. would give the resort a much needed shot in the arm. It would put employees back into work, offer the invaluable marketing message that the property is safe to visit and generate construction fees and hotel expenses. At least, analysts said, N.B.A. will spend tens of millions of dollars.

But the real value for Disney would come from ESPN, which has been starving for live sports to broadcast. Michael Nathanson, a media analyst, recently estimated that ESPN would lose $ 481 million in ad revenue if N.B.A. did not complete the season and the playoffs.

Lapchick called the ongoing deal "a huge win-win" for the league and Disney.

Fans have had fun imagining how Disney World lodging can be concealed. Should the highest-ranking players get the most luxurious engravings, like $ 1150 a night by the sea overlooking Disney at the Grand Floridian? A blog suggested that the Knicks pitch in Fort Wilderness, the resort's $ 102 campground per night. Ouch.

Disney and the N.B.A. have not commented, but there is no chance of players being scattered across a dozen hotels. The league will use one or two. The 443 rooms at Four Seasons are high on the drawbar; It is located in a gated, ultra-exclusive area near the center of Disney World called Golden Oak.

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M.L.S. has also talked to Disney about back-to-game scenarios, but bargaining in the league over timing and pay has created speed bumps.

A first proposal had teams sequestering at Disney World starting early this month. They were to practice for a few weeks before continuing the game in August. Now is the league – after pushback from M.L.S. Players Association – may have some teams regrouping in their home markets before settling on Disney World in early July for a multi-week tournament. A spokesman for the league had no comment.

M.L.S. would take at least 1200 people to the resort. One possible neighborhood: Coronado Springs, a 2345-room Disney hotel that typically hosts conferences. It underwent a megawatt renovation and expansion last year. The Coronado is also well contained; There are no adjacent hotels, as is the case elsewhere at Disney World.

ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision have rights to broadcast football. M.L.S. has been closed since March 12.

Disney World, about 20 miles southwest of Orlando, opened in 1971 with a park (Magic Kingdom) and added two more parks, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, in the 1980s. Most of the 90's were about attracting people to fill them – especially non-traditional visitors. Disney Vacation Club, part-time cabins partially aimed at empty nesters, opened in 1991. A wedding and wedding division opened at the resort in 1992.

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