SBJ/July 18 - 24, 2005/SBJ In Depth

The mission? Creating magical memories

Reggie Williams was in politics before he joined the Walt Disney World Resort as director of sports development a dozen years ago. So he understands the ebbs and flows of public funding and the shifts in priorities that can make life difficult for a sports commission trying to bring in big events and pull them off without a hitch.

Kellen Winslow (left) and Reggie Williams want families to share special sports moments.
“Having been a Cincinnati city councilman, I understand that there are always competing voices for how to utilize the resources of a community,” said Williams, a Dartmouth graduate who parlayed 14 years as a Cincinnati Bengals linebacker into a two-year stint in politics. “Here at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, we don’t have any competing voices. Our mission is pretty focused. We’re about what’s best for the kids.

“The financial results have to be there. But we won’t get the financial results if we don’t take care of the guest first.”

For Disney, those guests include participants and coaches and the family members who travel with them. Getting parents and siblings to make the trip is an imperative in the park’s business model.

Williams thinks back to his own days as an athlete, growing up in Flint, Mich., as he makes his pitch to get parents to travel to the complex for events.

“Our mission is to create these very real, lifelong memories that these athletes have,” Williams said. “For a dozen of my most cherished sports memories, there was no one around. My brothers weren’t there. My parents weren’t there. We’ve tried to encourage more people to come with their loved ones and share in these championship moments.”

Williams is not the only Disney Sports executive who stresses the power of family travel when pitching the park.

“The greatest thing my parents did for us when we were kids was to load seven of us into the car and drive to Chicago for a day trip, or go to Denver to visit family,” said Kellen Winslow, the hall of fame tight end whom Williams hired a year ago to develop new business opportunities. “I learned that there was something else out there besides East St. Louis.”

Winslow said Williams first approached him about a job when Wide World of Sports was under construction, but he wasn’t interested. He got his first taste of the facilities a few years ago when he played in a made-for-TV flag football game that aired on ABC. Then, he watched his son, Kellen Jr., play basketball in an AAU tournament while he was in high school.

After Kellen Winslow Jr. was drafted by the Cleveland Browns last year, the father decided the time might be right to join Williams at Disney.

“Kellen got on a plane to go to Cleveland,” Winslow said, “and I said, I guess I better go out and get a job.”

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