SBD/June 29, 2012/Events and Attractions

Disney Focuses On Soccer To Grow Business At Wide World Of Sports Complex

EPL players Craig Bellamy, Paul Robinson and Aaron Hughes “were recruited to headline the ‘Disney Soccer Academy,’ a two-week training camp” that is part of a "broader push by Disney World to stage more soccer events at its sprawling ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex,” according to Jason Garcia of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. The academy, which wrapped up Thursday, is in its second year and parents of about “300 youngsters, ranging in age from 6 to 18, paid $390 a child for practice sessions under the supervision of the three soccer stars.” Disney now hosts “more than a dozen soccer events a year.” The company said that “close to 100,000 athletes, fans and coaches have attended its soccer events during the past year.” Disney hopes to “nurture soccer's growth further.” This year it has added “four more playing fields at Wide World of Sports, boosting the total to 17.” It also “successfully lobbied for $1 million from the Florida Legislature for local sports boosters to give to Major League Soccer teams that hold preseason training camps in Central Florida.” Disney's interest in soccer “is twofold.” For one, resort officials said that it is “among the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. in terms of youth participation.” For another, the sport is “enormously popular with international audiences.” Disney said that its research shows 85% of the people “drawn by Wide World of Sports events would not have otherwise visited the resort.” To elevate its “soccer pedigree with overseas amateurs, Disney in March struck a six-year sponsorship with AS Roma of the Italian League.” The goal is to “stage more events” like next month's Disney Cup Int'l Youth Soccer Tournament. Organizers said that the week-long event is “expected to draw 190 teams and nearly 9,000 players, coaches and spectators from 18 countries” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 6/28).
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