In researching the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the previous If I Were Disney CEO blog, I came across an interesting news item. Orlando will host the 2022 Special Olypmics at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. And it seems this is not the first time Disney has hosted a large, multi-event games at the Complex. In 2016, Disney hosted the Invictus Games, Prince Harry's international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick service personnel.
And that got me thinking. Could Walt Disney World host a Summer Olympic Games?
I think the answer is yes and it's not as crazy as it first sounds. It's very unlikely to happen, and it would likely require shutting down the resort to all but guests of the games, but I think the games could be something very much within Disney's wheelhouse. Here's why:
Disney is already uniquely suited to handle the crush of crowds:
The Walt Disney World Resort is 40 square miles, or roughly the size of San Francisco. As a whole, the resort handled over fifty-eight million people in 2016. Between the four theme parks, the resort could handle around 300,000 guests at a single time. That's just in the theme parks.
Guinness has the largest attendance for an Olympics on record as the Atlanta games in 1996. 8.3 million tickets were sold, averaging out to roughly half a million guests each day. The more likely scenario is that the resort would essentially be at New Year's Eve levels for the duration of the games. Not ideal, but something Disney has experience dealing with.
Disney already has the bones for the infrastructure in place, including many athletic venues:
Just at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney has five baseball diamonds, four softball diamonds, four flex baseball/softball spaces (can be used for other field events), seventeen well-manicured fields to host field events, a track and field complex, ten tennis courts, and three indoor facilities (including one that can have four basketball or volleyball games going simultaneously). That's just at the Wide World of Sports, which could cover the basketball, gymnastic, volleyball, track and field, badminton, baseball, field hockey, football/soccer, rugby, softball, and tennis events.
The entire resort also has four world-class golf courses for the golf events, beach volleyball courses at various resorts for the beach volleyball competitions, several lakes and rivers for the sprint canoe events, and five large convention centers which could house the wrestling, boxing, fencing, judo, karate, table tennis, taekwondo, and weightlifting events not housed at the Complex.
Fort Wilderness would be perfect for the equestrian and archery/shooting competitions. Disney is already adept at hosting marathon length running events through the property with its runDisney events.
And for the sailing events, Disney has its own resort on the beach at Vero Beach roughly two hours away, or has connections at Cape Canaveral one hour away with its Disney Cruise line.
Disney also has a transportation fleet of 486 buses, 12 monorails, 3 ferries, 34 other boats, and 28 parking lot trams. Thousands of hotel rooms to house visitors.
That is not to say more would not need to be built. There is a clear need for swimming and diving venues. A sport climbing venue. A BMX venue. A skateboarding venue. Fort Wilderness will need venues created for the Equestrian events. Even an artificial canoe slalom path would be needed. An additional track would also be needed, and likely a grand one that could serve as the official Olympic Stadium.
But, unlike other cities, I see this need as a positive.
Building new facilities can be more easily monetized by Disney than other cities:
Each new facility built by Disney represents a potential new revenue stream for years beyond the Olympics. Construction of a swimming and diving facility could lead to continued swim competitions of all levels held at Walt Disney World. Construction of a skateboarding venue and a BMX venue would be beneficial to bringing the ESPN X games to the Wide World of Sports Complex. A sport climbing venue could be used for future events and for amateur recreation. The equestrian venues could be designed to be used on a regular basis by Fort Wilderness. The artificial canoe slalom could be used for a whitewater rafting experience for resort guests. Even the grand Olympic Stadium could be constructed in a way that would have multiple uses including American football games, soccer games, track and field events, etc. The build out of the Complex could only benefit increased use of the Complex for a variety of sporting events in the future.
The complex will also need a great amount of additional parking and dining options added. Again, both would be long term benefits the complex.
Thankfully, Disney has a lot of available land to work with in building out the complex.
|A lot of land|
Even the Olympic Village could be turned into a guest resort following the games. If not a guest resort, Disney is always in need of housing for the College Program cast members.
The Olympics at Walt Disney World could also be a part of a larger bid to televise the games on ABC/ESPN:
While expanding the facilities for events and guests, it would also be the perfect excuse to build a large facility for ABC Sports/ESPN production coverage. This is one of the scenarios in which complete integration could be a wonderful thing, enabling a better finished product. Disney constructing the venues with their sports coverage in mind. And again, something that would pay off for future events held in the space.
Disney has a history with the Olympic Games:
Walt Disney left his mark on the Olympic games when he served as Chairman of the Pageantry Committee for the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, California. During his time, Walt organized the Olympic torch relay and designed the games' medal ceremonies, produced the opening and closing ceremonies, introduced corporate sponsorship to the games through the sponsoring of the 30 flag poles placed throughout the valley, had his artists design the statues in the Avenue of the Athletes and to design a new Olympic torch which is still the base today. Disney brought in a mass of entertainers to perform for the Olympic athletes. The IOC chair would go on to say that the 1960 Winter Games were the "greatest games ever staged." A reported for the Los Angeles Times proclaimed that "It is my conviction that you'll never see anything of that kind so well done in your lifetime."
The Disney team would also contribute to the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles by designing the mascot Sam the Eagle.
It would be fitting to bring the games to Walt Disney World, to show what a full, modern Olympic Games presented by Disney could be. Imagine the opening and closing ceremonies using all the techniques and technologies they have at their disposal.
If I were CEO, I would at least run that feasibility study.