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Disney World, NBA partner on concept restaurant and attraction

NBA partnering with Disney makes perfect sense given TV deals with ABC, ESPN.

Walt Disney Company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger, left, and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner talk  Game 7 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series between  Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Walt Disney Company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger, left, and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner talk Game 7 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series between Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Downtown Disney/Disney Springs near Orlando, Fla., will have a new attraction, and it doesn’t have much to do with Mickey Mouse. Disney and the NBA have announced that an area dubbed The NBA Experience will move into Downtown Disney complete with high-tech interactive experiences, a sit-down restaurant and an NBA store all encompassed in the new venue.

An NBA restaurant and store was previously located at Universal Studios Florida (owned by NBC Universal), but that relationship has ended to make way for the NBA to move to the happiest place on earth. This makes sense on a partnership level because NBC Universal had no other relationship with the NBA. NBC and NBC network don’t have TV rights, and outside of the Olympics, very little basketball is shown on NBC properties. NBC hasn’t had a relationship with the NBA since 2002 other than nostalgic NBA fans replaying the NBA on NBC theme on YouTube.

Disney, on the other hand, owns ABC and ESPN. The NBA Finals have appeared on ABC since 2003, and ESPN just extended its television rights deal with the NBA until 2024-2025. With a partnership already in place, creating this NBA experience was a no-brainer. It integrates the companies further, extends both companies brands and builds on a relationship that has been lucrative for both companies.

ESPN already has a restaurant (ESPN Club) on the outskirts of the EPCOT Center next to the Disney Boardwalk Hotel, so Disney World Resort has experience managing and maintaining sports-themed restaurants. The NBA will have input, but partnering with one of the largest and best-run hospitality companies in the world will only enhance the NBA brand. Disney also has its ESPN Wide World of Sports area, so it has experience managing sports attractions.

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This is also an interesting play to expand the NBA brand to people who may not be familiar with the product. Basketball is a global game, but Disney brings in tourists from all around the world. If those patrons enter Downtown Disney/Disney Springs and get pulled into the NBA Experience, the NBA could continue to grow its brand globally through this secondary method.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.

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