Pro soccer and basketball leagues could be 'going to Disney World'


  • Image via Disney
The slogan “I’m going to Disney World!” is typically associated with the Super Bowl, but the current pandemic could mean entire sports leagues may soon utter those words.

The idea of the NBA finishing out its season at WDW was first floated in April. With nearly 80 percent of the regular season already completed, the quarantined season at the Disney would allow for some teams to leave after only a few weeks, while others would stay for potentially two months or longer, as they finish out the playoffs. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league was listening to the possibilities on how to finish out the season and noted that the 2020-21 season might see a delayed start.

The possibility of the NBA finishing out some or all of the season at Disney World seems to have piqued the interest of the MLS. They are now reportedly also looking at using the Central Florida resort. Unlke the NBA, the MLS has roughly 91 percent of the season left.

If it happened, both leagues would use the 220-acre ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. The sports facility hosts numerous sports events, which typically have multiple games or matches being played at the same time. Both the NBA and MLS have used the facility in the past for special events, including the Jr. NBA Global Championship and the 2019 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge. The complex is already setup for live broadcasts with an on-site production facility that is regularly used for amateur, college, and high-level sports events.
WDW also has over 36,000 hotel rooms, all of which are currently sitting unused. While the players and those they bring with them would likely be unable to visit areas that are open to the public or that require non-quartianted staff to operate, the resorts offer many on-site amenities, including impressive pool areas, unique dining options, and the potential for special entertainment.

One thing that would be missing is the spectators. Both scenarios involve no unnecessary visitors breaching the bubble that would be created.

"For a sports league such as the NBA – or even MLS, although their number of players would be greater – it makes a lot of sense both logistically and in human terms to locate somewhere like Walt Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports to finish the season if you're playing without spectators,” explains Simon Veness, an international sports and travel writer based out of Central Florida best known for his Brit's Guide to Orlando book that he co-authors with his wife.

Other sites, such as Las Vegas, have been floated as a potential, but few offer the level of separation and safety that WDW could provide.

"Just to start with, the Wide World of Sports can create the kind of sealed 'bubble' a league would need in order to pull off an organizational feat of this magnitude, while it also has professional-level playing fields, support facilities, and TV production studios,” explains Veness. “In addition, there are plenty of high-quality hotel rooms that could be added within the Disney 'bubble' to accommodate players at the necessary level of comfort.”

Veness went on to explain the NBA already has a strong relationship with Disney that goes well beyond those at Disney owned ESPN. "Disney and the NBA currently have an existing partnership with the NBA Experience attraction at Disney Springs, and they know each other well at the corporate level, so it would be a relatively easy collaborative process. And there are few companies in the world that can match Disney for hospitality expertise and can-do ethos."

No word on when either league will announce their plans to finish out the season, but both have now allowed teams in less hard-hit areas to return to practice. Any changes also must be approved by the player’s unions prior to implementation. In the meantime, Disney World is now only accepting reservations past the end of June, possibly an indication that the resort will not reopen until at least July.

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