Nothing but net for NBA, Disney
It was a celebration worthy of all things Disney, complete with Mickey and Minnie on stage waving through a curtain of confetti to a crowd gathered at the grand opening of the NBA Experience in Disney Springs.
The long-awaited opening of the NBA Experience on Aug. 12 means yet another entertainment attraction inside the sprawling Disney resort property in Florida. But to the NBA and Disney, the new venue takes an already deep media partnership that began in 2002 to a far higher level. Already, the NBA and Disney are talking about the possibility of extending the concept to other Disney developments around the globe.
“This cements our relationship,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, minutes after the opening ceremony where he and Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger appeared together on stage to christen the new attraction. “It is a major commitment.”
Five years in the making, the NBA Experience is a 44,000-square-foot, two-story entertainment venue that from the outside is modeled after an NBA arena, its facade complete with a giant video screen and LED ribbon boards.
“We set out to be authentic,” said Scott Lazaruk, NBA vice president of global partnerships, who took a lead development role on the project. “Fans want to immerse themselves in the league, not just watch it.”
A visitor can’t help but be immersed in the NBA Experience as they enter the venue, which opens into an NBA Center Court atrium that includes a center-hung scoreboard. Tickets cost $34 for adults and $29 for children. The venue features 13 interactive activities and a 5,000-square-foot store that sells a blend of NBA and WNBA merchandise and Disney products designed specifically for the NBA Experience, including Mickey Mouse ears and Mickey Mouse basketball-themed backpacks.
“We have a long history with Disney and they can bring the NBA to life in ways no one else can,” said Sal LaRocca, president of global partnerships for the NBA.
The NBA and Disney would not disclose the cost of the development or details of the financial arrangement between the two.
The attraction gives visitors a sense of what NBA or WNBA players experience through the interactive elements. Some are more immersive than others, including the Combine experience that allows visitors to replicate basketball drills and compare their vertical leap and wingspan to an NBA or WNBA player. The Shoot activity lets visitors step onto a court amid a computer-generated crowd and shoot last-second shots before the clock expires.
The Draft element allows visitors to don a hat of their favorite team and take the stage for a photo with a lifelike NBA Commissioner Adam Silver figure in a re-creation of what a rookie experiences on draft night.
To plan the attraction, Disney Imagineers visited a variety of NBA arenas, spent time at the NBA combine in Chicago, went behind the scenes at the draft and spent time with players to get ideas. For Disney, details matter, such as the adjustable rims and glass backboards at the Dunk station that mirror what NBA arenas use.
“When you come in, I wanted you to be able to tap into the player that lives inside you, that fan that lives inside you, and understand the entire world that revolves around that,” said Stan Dodd, executive producer and creative director of Disney Imagineering who worked on developing the NBA Experience. “That is why we take you into the locker room, and put you on the court to understand the pressure of that last-second shot. That is what I was after and why we have the mix of everything we have here.”
The NBA also views the new attraction as a significant brand extension strategy to basketball fans who have never attended or rarely get to games.
“The NBA has hundreds of millions of fans around the world, many of which will never have the opportunity to come to a NBA game, or who want to experience the league in new ways, so a project like this brings the game to the fans in a way that has never been done before,” Lazaruk said. “So hands-on activities, immersive entertainment; our fans are looking for those kinds of opportunities, but it is also a way for us to connect with new audiences, with Disney audiences. Fans coming in from Latin America, Europe and elsewhere. For the league it is about fan engagement. Fans want to know what it’s like to go through those key moments of what it’s like to be an NBA player.”
Though the NBA Experience venue at Disney Springs just opened, the league is already thinking about adding similar NBA-themed attractions at other Disney properties around the world, such as parks in Shanghai and Paris.
“We have talked to them about potentially trying to relocate this in other parts of the world,” LaRocca said. “From a partnership standpoint, we have a long history with them. Whether or not we take this exact thing to Shanghai, we will see. They are an organization that has the opportunity to bring the NBA to life in ways no one else can. We have started talking to them about what this may look like internationally.”
It is also no coincidence that the NBA and Disney held the grand opening of the NBA Experience attraction the day after the league completed its Jr. NBA Global Championship tournament, which was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney Resort.
Players from the Jr. NBA teams were part of the NBA Experience opening ceremony as the league continues efforts to draw younger fans using the pull of Disney.
“This gives 75 million visitors who come to Orlando every year the opportunity to come close to the NBA and do things like dunk on an NBA rim or go to the replay center,” said Alex Martins, CEO of the Orlando Magic, which counts Disney as the team’s jersey patch partner.
“Having this in our backyard is spectacular. It a great opportunity for us to extend our brand and we worked closely with Disney to find as many opportunities to brand as possible.”
■ Location: Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort
■ Size: 44,000 square feet, including a 5,000-square-foot retail store
■ Opened: Aug. 12
■ Admission: $34 for adults, $29 for children
■ Features: Interactive elements
NBA Experience Store