|Industry||restaurant and entertainment|
|Founded||July 11, 1998|
ESPN Zone is a themed restaurant and entertainment center located at Downtown Disney in the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, United States that included arcades, TV studios, and radio studios. Original, this was a restaurant chain in the United States operated by Disney Regional Entertainment subsidiary of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts using the Disney-owned ESPN brand. Similar, still-operating restaurants include the ESPN Club at Disney's BoardWalk Inn and the ESPN Grill at ESPN Wide World of Sports, both located within the Walt Disney World complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
In 1992, Art Levitt conceived of an ESPN/Disney project, while he was Disney Parks and Resorts vice president of resorts and special projects, to increase Disney's Pleasure Island's attractions. Levitt's concept was "to put an ESPN experience in Disney World". Despite discussions with ESPN, the project did not immediately given the green light. Levitt exited Disney for the CEO post at Hard Rock Cafe International. The ESPN Club sports bar, at Walt Disney World with 13,000 square feet of TV screens, was a modest attempt that came from those discussion plus drew enough as a proof of concept. The restaurant opened on July 1, 1996 at the Boardwalk entertainment complex.
A similar project, Sports Center USA, led by Lynda O'Dea attempted to get started for four years in the early 1990s with its selected first location was Baltimore's Power Plant. A lack of financing ended this project that was done in conjunction with Capital Cities/ABC, Inc.
With Disney purchase of Capital Cities/ABC in 1996, ESPN was a key part of the purchase, which Disney Chair/CEO Michael Eisner then move into additional brand extensions from biweekly sports magazine, ESPN-themed restaurants, video games and retail stores. With Levitt having the original idea back in 1992, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner turned to him to head up Disney Regional Entertainment, the subsidiary that would startup and run the chain.The concept was original called ESPN Grill when announced in October 1997 with a whole slate of major city locations scheduled to start with Baltimore, Maryland in mid-1998, Chicago in spring 1999. ESPN Grill was renamed on December 29, 1997 to ESPN Zone to reflect that there is more to the venue.
After the Chicago location opening, there was to be a new location every three months.
In 2009, Disney Regional Entertainment closed two ESPN Zone locations. A restaurant in Denver closed in June, and another in Atlanta closed in October of that year. The Atlanta location had opened in 2000, while the Denver location opened in 2001. In both cases, Disney Regional Entertainment cited the "economic environment" as the reason for the closures.
In June 2010, all but two locations were shuttered, with the remaining restaurants located in Southern California. As part of the decision by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, through their Disney Regional Entertainment division, to no longer operate the restaurants in 2010, they sold the rights to operate the location in Anaheim to Zone Enterprises of Anaheim, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, and the L.A. Live location to Anschutz Entertainment Group, the company that owns the L.A. Live complex. The Los Angeles location, housed in the ESPN West Coast headquarters building, closed in July 2013.
The prototype ESPN Zone was a two level 35,000 square-foot complex with stadium like design which could hold 550 customers. People may dine at the bar or restaurant area. 200 TV screens were hung from the walls and ceilings. There are two special rooms, a screening room and a 10,000-square-foot arena for actual and virtual game play.
ESPN Zone incorporated sports news into daily operations. Each shift, all staff were to received daily sports news briefings. Place mats would be generated daily as a mini-sports page of a newspaper. The chain was to change its exclusive program, games and memorabilia regularly.
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All of the ESPN Zone restaurants were equipped to be remote ESPN broadcast locations, though only two were used to house regular series. The Anaheim ESPN Zone was the home of Unscripted with Chris Connelly, from 2001 to 2002. The ESPN Zone in New York City's Times Square was used as the location of the Monday Night Football halftime show for several years. The weekly series The Sports Reporters was broadcast from the Times Square location every Sunday morning from its opening until its closing, at which point the show moved to ESPN's home base in Bristol, Connecticut.
Several of the locations also had radio studios, used by the local ESPN Radio affiliate and leased to other stations on occasion.
Their most notable event was the Ultimate Couch Potato Competition, a competitive sitting competition. In 2009, competitions were held in New York, Chicago and Baltimore. The Baltimore winner, Jessica Mosley, unofficially broke the Guinness World Record by sitting and watching consecutive sports for an unprecedented 70 hours, and 45 seconds. She repeated as Baltimore champion in 2010. The 2009 event received attention nationally, as well as from international outlets like the popular Australian television show Sunrise. Jeff Miller, the 2010 winner in Chicago broke an ESPN Zone record and also unofficially broke the Guinness World Record by watching 72 hours of non-stop sports and his third win in the competition.
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Pratt Street Power Plant, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland
- Denver, Colorado
- Chicago, Illinois
- New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas Strip, Paradise, Nevada
- L.A. Live, Los Angeles, California
- Times Square, New York City, New York
- Thurman Arnold Building, Downtown, Washington, D.C.
- Dave & Buster's
- Niketown, a New York high-tech museum-grade retail project
- Planet Hollywood
- Rainforest Cafe
- Arney, June (March 8, 1998). "ESPN's fun zone Entertainment: The first ESPN Zone, a venture with Disney, promises to be on the cutting edge of interactive sports entertainment". Baltimore Sun. pp. 1–3. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
- Shenot, Christine (June 10, 1996). "Espn Steps Up To The Plate With Sports Bar". Orlando Sentinel. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
- Mulligan, Thomas S. (November 20, 1997). "Expansion Team". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
- Richmond, Ray (October 15, 1997). "ESPN serves up Grill". Variety. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
- "Power Plant tenant renamed as ESPN Zone". Baltimore Sun. December 30, 1997. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
- Gunts, Edward (July 9, 1998). "In the zone". Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
- Tyler Lopez (2009-06-29). "Denver's ESPN Zone Closed". TheDenverChannel.com. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- Richard Eldredge (2009-10-01). "ESPN Zone in Buckhead closes". AJC.com. Archived from the original on Oct 4, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- Madigan, Nick (January 4, 2010). "Champion Couch Potato Repeats At Baltimore's Espn Zone". Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
- McNamara, Chris (January 5, 2010). "Chicago man breaks Guinness World Record for competitive sitting, wins third straight title". Chicago Tribune. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
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