NBA’s Bubble Site Front-Runner is Disney World
As major sports leagues attempt to salvage their seasons, the NBA’s plan to return to play is gaining momentum with Walt Disney World being the front-runner to host all teams and games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. In this post, we’ll detail what the WDW bubble site would entail and offer some commentary about it.
The idea for an NBA bubble site first appeared nearly two months ago, as an untested but hypothetical possibility for salvaging the season. It started to gain traction as the Korea Baseball Organization, German Bundesliga, and other sports leagues around the world unveiled and successfully implemented similar plans to safely return to play without fans.
Several locations have been thrown around to host the NBA’s bubble site, including Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the Bahamas. Las Vegas hosts the annual MGM Resorts G League Winter Showcase–an event held inside the Mandalay Bay Convention Center under similar conditions, albeit only for four days. Walt Disney World shares a lot of the attributes that make Las Vegas a desirable bubble site, and is actually superior in a variety of ways…
The genesis of the idea for the NBA using Disney’s Florida Project came from Yahoo Sports writer and former Cast Member Keith Smith, who last month wrote “Why Walt Disney World would be the ideal spot for the NBA to salvage its season.” If this concept does come to fruition at Walt Disney World, it’ll be partly attributable to Smith willing it into existence. (Plus, unlike a lot of other journalists, Smith doesn’t fumble the basic details of Walt Disney World–likely due to his twenty years as a Cast Member.)
As Smith notes there, Walt Disney World has a number of attributes that make it uniquely desirable. First, there’s the sheer number of hotel rooms, none of which are being used right now. He suggests Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Disney’s Riviera Resorts as viable options. While we don’t agree with the specific choices (more on that later), the core idea is sound.
More importantly, ESPN Wide World of Sports has the facilities necessary to host all 30 teams simultaneously, offering sufficient workout, practice, and broadcast space. The complex is home to HP Field House, Visa Athletic Center, and the Arena–all of which are broadcast-ready and capable of housing basketball courts.
I don’t have much knowledge about the ESPN Wide World of Sports. I’ve attended Atlanta Braves spring training games, Walt Disney World Marathon Expo, and run through the venue for a variety of runDisney events. From all of that, my overall impression is that ESPN Wide World of Sports is a massive complex–far more spacious than any single team’s stadium or arena.
ESPN Wide World of Sports also benefits from Walt Disney World’s “blessing of size.” Unlike other arenas located in downtown areas, this complex is sprawling, isn’t surrounded by buildings or dense populations, and has a surplus of open outdoor space.
Given that social distancing likely isn’t going away anytime soon, this all offers ESPN Wide World of Sports (and Walt Disney World, generally) an advantage over Las Vegas or other cities that have offered up their venues as a bubble site.
Walt Disney World also has numerous large resorts that are likely to have surplus capacity in the coming months. Coronado Springs Resort is the obvious choice here–its rooms are slightly more upscale than Smith’s lower-tier choices, it’s close to ESPN Wide World of Sports, and with no conventions booked in the foreseeable future, it could be converted to the de facto “sports hotel” with normal guests rebooked elsewhere.
In our view, Skyliner and Disney Vacation Club resorts are much less likely to be used. However, if more rooms were needed, the Port Orleans Resorts could be viable options. The third-party Bonnet Creek hotels (Wyndham, Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, and the new JW Marriott) seem like other ideal picks. There are also tons of vacation homes (mansions) now available for rent to the south in Osceola County if the NBA were to use a “soft bubble.”
While it may not seem like social distancing or other prophylactic measures are not necessary given the nature of the quarantined site, it’s likely still best to have a spacious venue with open-air grounds and a buffer between the bubble and the real world. Moreover, the particulars of the NBA’s bubble site are still unclear, so it’s no sure thing that this will truly be a quarantined site or impervious bubble, as has been used by other international leagues.
Given that this is a Walt Disney World fan site and the term “WDW bubble” has been in our collective parlance for years, it’s probably not necessary to dedicate a thorough discussion to the idea of the Disney bubble itself. The NBA’s bubble site is more or less the same idea–a location without fans and minimal exposure to and from the real world.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver does not anticipate a “medical bubble” for the NBA’s players at whatever site the league decides on, and the terms “soft bubble,” “neutral site,” and “open bubble” have started to be used instead of “quarantined site.” In such a scenario, players could come and go as they please, and the same goes for their families and the massive support staff infrastructure that would service the complex.
The NBA would issue travel rules, personal protective equipment guidelines, and would likely utilize repeated group testing to ensure the safety of players and staff. Obviously, this is not a foolproof solution, and one that emphasizes mitigation and minimization over what could be achieved with a medical bubble.
This differs from the more restrictive rules of international leagues, which have had strict quarantines (FC Augsburg’s manager missed the season’s start after accidentally breaking quarantine rules to buy toothpaste). Upon resuming games, the Korean Baseball Organization pledged to shut down entirely for three weeks if any member of a team tests positive. There, South Korea’s government also has responded aggressively, with thorough testing, tracing, and isolation policies that have proven successful.
Like the United States’ approach in general, the NBA’s plan is shaping up to be significantly more lax and looser than international leagues. In both cases, it remains to be seen whether it’s possible to enact half the measures of counterparts trying to meet the same ends, and still achieve the same outcomes. (Common sense would respond with a resounding no.)
Nevertheless, momentum continues to build towards the NBA returning to action in June or July. The Athletic is now reporting that Walt Disney World has emerged as a clear front-runner as the single bubble site to host all teams and games, and Keith Smith (the one who has basically willed this idea into existence) revealed that Walt Disney World has begun the early stages of re-working some of its hotel spaces for housing the NBA.
Players are starting to talk up the idea of a bubble site in greater numbers, too. LeBron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and other superstars have all expressed their desire to continue the season so long as it’s deemed safe by health experts. Leaks (or speculation?) have also started to emerge from players, with the latest rumor being that practice will resume on June 21, 2020 and games will start July 15, 2020.
My view on the NBA bubble site more or less parallels how I feel about theme parks reopening. Like everyone else, I’m eager for things to get back to normal and there are ample signs for optimism. However, this is also tempered tremendously by the reality of our current circumstances. A desire for normalcy alone does not make it so; it’s a gradual and methodical process that will take time and care to enact. I worry that sloppiness and an unwillingness to compromise or put in the necessary work will doom some of these plans to failure, putting us right back where we started. (For more enjoyable and insightful commentary, I’d recommend checking out the Last Week Tonight segment on sports returning.)
With that bit of pessimism out of the way, I’m optimistic that the NBA bubble site could have big, positive implications for Disney. The obvious one is the direct revenue it would generate for Walt Disney World, as renting out ESPN Wide World of Sports as well as Coronado Springs Resort is a huge win as other events have been cancelled. That likely pales in comparison to the indirect benefit of getting live sports back on television, which gives ESPN (the network) compelling content and a reason to watch now that the Last Dance is over.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of the NBA using Walt Disney World as a bubble site? Think ESPN Wide World of Sports would be an ideal venue for such a concept? Other thoughts? We welcome a variety of viewpoints here, and will not delete anything on opinion alone. However, we will not tolerate insults, arguing, or politically-charged comments. Don’t ruin a 95% fine comment with an unnecessary cheap shot—that 5% will get it deleted. Additionally, please do not incessantly harp on the same point across multiple comments. Respectfully share your opinion and move along.
Great reporting as always, thanks Disneytouristblog! This idea of an NBA bubble site at WDW makes a lot of sense to me, and as a fan of the theme parks reopening once it is deemed safe, this project would help tremendously by bringing back cast members needed to support the hotels, transportation, all the ESPN technical staff not to mention help Disney refine its health care protocols for eventually reopening the parks and all the resort hotels.
The whole bubble site thing is what lots of hotels in lots of cities have been dreading unfortunately 🙁 I work in a 5 star hotel that has been relying on MLB and NBA teams to come back to get us back up and running, but we’ve now heard the rumors for all MLB to be in Phoenix and all NBA to be in Orlando which means we get nothing. I completely understand that each team traveling greatly heightens the risks for getting sick though and that is obviously and understandably the priority. Would be cool if maybe they could gather in a few regional spots to play several teams and then a week or so later switch it up. Help spread the economic love? Not sure how/if that would work.
That being said, I can’t fathom players being comfortable in anything but the luxury properties. When they’re at our hotel (we typically get teams twice a week) only the big name players and coaches get the suites and if any other player wants a bigger room they come down and pay to upgrade. I say this to say that the suites they are used to would not be found at the economic or mid-range hotels for sure. Especially with them being there for a long time, suites will be necessary for most I would think just for sanity’s sake and being able to move around. Staff (medical and lower coaching staff) as well as broadcasting could possibly be put up in economy hotels. They do typically stay 5 star with the team but we always get instructions to put them on the lowest floors and away from everyone else. Most teams also have 2 training suites for PT as well as a ballroom to gather for meals and tape review.
MLB always allows players to travel with family but NBA in the past has not. I would expect there to be an exception to this, but they do not allow players to stay in the same room as their family on a typical basis even if they do end up coming. Even if a friend or their wife were to visit, they have to come down and pay their group rate for a separate room on a separate floor. I think since NBA doesn’t travel for as long of a time as MLB does at a time, they want players to stay focused whereas lots of MLB wives and kids travel with their husbands full time because they’ll be on the road for a week or so at a time. I just wonder if there are enough luxury rooms and suites for that many players, coaches, and now maybe all of that x 2 if their families come. Would be cool if they could spread out a tiny bit and use Four Seasons Orlando, Ritz-Carlton and the other luxury properties in the area as well. Boost more of Orlando’s economy rather than just the Disney economy.
Anyway, that was probably just me rambling out loud my thoughts as a hotelier, but I am very interested to see how players adapt to being in one hotel room for a long time and how they’ll keep their energy up without a crowd to feed off. I’ll miss seeing the teams and dread being furloughed even longer if we can’t get any sports or entertainment revenue back at my hotel this year 🙁
Sarah, thanks for sharing. It’s exciting to see some of the sports trying to return in any way possible and unfortunate, as you mentioned, how this will hurt a lot of areas used to the return business. I’m curious as well to see how the player’s handle being in a much different style room than they typically are while traveling. I’m also wondering if the player’s will head into the parks at all and possibly allow fans to meet them during their time there. I’m sure we’ll see the NBA experience open up in Disney Springs at some point though for some sort of interaction. As far as revenue goes, Disney certainly hit the jackpot, all things considered, with this and in return should allow quite a few cast members to return to work. Obviously too soon to tell but hopefully this will help some of the surrounding economy as well in some way. All the best to you
Concentrating an entire league in one place may be counterproductive in many ways. Spread the wealth. Play the games outside in large, open stadiums in areas with moderate climates. Might even be able to have a few fans and practice antisocial distancing in such large venues.
I wonder what this could do for guest interest in visiting the ESPN complex down the road. We always get those coupons for free entry when we book a package, but I’ve never been in all my years visiting Disney. I’m not really a sports person at all, but I could see other people suddenly having interest in visiting – knowing that’s where the Coronavirus season took place!
More people to contend with. The only upside I see is fo Disney’s wallet.
I’ve been following the NBA restarting rumors throughout this, and one thing I hadn’t thought of until tonight: Adam Silver (NBA Commissioner) has been pushing an idea to try to have some type of in-season tournament in the future. If this happens with the NBA at Disney to finish the season and it goes well, perhaps Disney could become the site of such a tournament in the future. So Disney and the NBA could have even more reason to really want this to work.
Oh no, I’m sorry if pointing out the typo wasn’t helpful! I’m a very infrequent poster but I always read the comments and thought this was typical here in the spirit of helping Tom, since he revisits and updates often. Won’t happen again – thoroughly enjoying the content and the enthusiasm and sorry again for the misstep! Not my intention to police grammar at all!
I wouldn’t worry. Tom didn’t criticize you, the “Politeness Police” did. I’m sure Tom, as any writer, wants his submissions to be a perfect as possible and appreciated your input.
Please let it happen again! 🙂
So long as you’re polite (and you were), it’s actually very helpful. It’s often more difficult to proofread your own writing (and I have no editor) than someone else’s, so a lot of mistakes are made!
Tom, I have to say that I appreciate your style and use of the English language. I’ve been published a bit, science fiction short stories, written a regular column for the local newspaper and a couple of equestrian magazines as well. I’ve always appreciated my editors because they’ve always taught me something. What passes for the written and spoken word in today’s English is enough to make me shudder, but then again I was born before there was dirt so I suppose things have changed quite a bit insofar as what is tolerated these days.
Anyway, keep up the good work.
“Bundesliga’s manager missed the season’s start after accidentally breaking quarantine rules to buy toothpaste.”
Just FYI, the Bundesliga is the name of the league, not a team. The manager who was quarantined for buying toothpaste is the manager of FC Augsburg.
It’s like saying “NBA’s coach Steve Kerr” instead of “Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors”.
Thanks for the informative post, as always!
Thanks for the correction! I have zero knowledge of that league and just found that anecdote amusing.
I enjoyed this update, Tom. Keep the sports posts coming! I’ve been following the story (because I also need something to watch after Last Dance!) but had not heard the soft bubble angle reported elsewhere. Thanks for that. It made me cringe a little, but is still interesting to know.
Found one typo: “this is all tempered tremendous” in the “My view. . .” paragraph.
Thanks for the heads up.
Sports or not, I’m personally intrigued by all of the adaptations people and businesses are making. Some will reshape society and everyday life (not this) as we know it, while others just allow getting back to varying degrees of normal. We’re bound to have some failures along the way, but it’s cool to see ingenuity like this.
This isn’t the New York Times. I happen to like Tom’s conversational style. And if a typo or grammar error crop up, I chalk it up to his enthusiasm and excitement – and also tight deadlines to disseminate time-sensitive news to us.
Being the grammar police is poor form and really just ungrateful.
When someone points out an error in a post I make or a. article I’ve written I always appreciate it as it reminds me to be more careful next time. In my day we called that “teaching.:
I had seen the soft bubble report the other day (interesting to note that Adam Silver has been referring to it as a “campus” not a “bubble” before this anyway, but I think that’s just semantics). The report I saw, I think was actually quoting an NBA player who said they would be allowed to leave the bubble, but if a player got sick, would not be able to play. I think it’s a bad idea for a number of reasons, and I can’t imagine the anger from teammates if someone were to go out and then test positive (regardless of whether he actually got it when out) and essentially be the reason why a team’s postseason hopes are ended. There have been a lot of reports that Rudy Gobert’s (first player to test positive, at least one teammate later positive as well – the team’s other star) actions not seeming to take the threat seriously back in March have created such a rift that the team may have to trade him in the offseason (although it may be more of a last straw type thing and there were other issues – but it’s all apparently because teammates are fed up with him, at least according to reports).
I love the idea and hope it works out for all involved. That being said- I guarantee NBA players will not be staying at Pop Century (or any other value resort).
I’m tall, but not NBA tall and barely fit in those rooms!
I’m sure they’d end up at more posh accommodations.
Nice post, Tom.
We are overlooking the tax man… he does not cometh in Florida or Nevada, who both have zero income tax, making the Paychecks larger for all involved.
That’s actually a great point–and one of the reasons why those states have “inexplicably” been able to attract some top talent over the years.
I think paychecks would still come from the teams, however, so probably still based on where the team is located or the player is a resident. Interesting thought though.
As both a Sports & Disney World Fanatic, I’ve been loving this idea. Obviously, I won’t be there to see it, but just the idea of the NBA being enveloped by Walt Disney World is pretty cool to me.
On my one visit to Wide World of Sports, I witnessed a large junior girls basketball tournament going on and was stunned by how many games could be played at one time. And they’ve added a huge 3rd building since then.
Almost all of my friends are also big sports/NBA fans, and have never really understood my WDW fascination. But now a few of them have already quizzed me about the “World” and how it would work as a NBA Playoff venue.
And I’m more than happy to give them way, way, waaaaaaaay more information than they really need.
The Athletic’s reporting on the “MLS is Back” plan, for a similar bubble tournament, has repeatedly named Coronado Springs as the site for housing some 1900 players and staff, and the ESPN complex as the site. I wonder if the complex is big enough to stage both!
Sports teams have a host of staff that travel with them to ensure supplies, medical attention and other things are available to the teams so that games can be played without any major disruptions. Networks also employ a host of off camera employees that may be able to work should sports resume without fans in the stands. I think completing the season in a bubble is a great idea. Disney, Vegas or what ever venue the NBA chooses is going to catch a huge break. The only downside I see is freedom the NBA may provide to players, team staff and their family. I would think the NBA would want a more restrictive quarantine. If team members, players and families start spreading the virus, there goes the rest of the Season. I’m a Clippers fan and it looks like we have a serious chance to end up in the Finals. I hope everyone stays safe and I hope the NBA bubble pans out!
I find it interesting that Disney would jump to get the NBA on site but drag their feet at opening the parks and resorts to the general public who are agonizing over their wanting to have their love of Disney vacations back. Opening the parks and hotels would bring the cast members back and create more jobs than having the NBA on site.
Ensuring employees–who have a vested interest in success–follow proper procedures is relatively simple as compared to doing the same with the general public, which is like herding cats. And that’s putting it charitably.
They can charge rack rate, or even inflated rates, to the NBA teams and nobody will bat an eye. It’s got to be more lucrative than opening to we the public who demand discounts and freebies before we book
Disney is a major TV partner of the NBA. Half of the playoff games will be on ESPN and all of the Finals games on ABC. Last year’s NBA Finals (6 games) generated $266 million in ad revenue. Obviously some portion of that goes to local affiliates, etc., but the point is that there is significant gain for Disney in helping to make finishing the NBA season work.
Great article, Tom. Really enjoyed the expanded content. It’s crazy to me that WDW could be/is going to be the solution to solving one of the biggest lapses of televised live entertainment in the country. Pretty amazing, and a definite metaphorical shot in the arm for our society.
Thanks for the article!
I should have known better than to think Disney could stop thinking about its wallet long enough to do without convention-type events even for a little while. I’m disappointed.
Don’t let that Mouse icon mislead you ;-). He is a toxic Capitalist 🙂
ESPN would be a great place to host this.
Bigger Issue: my problem is with coddled millionaire athletes getting COVID-19 tests all the time when the public cannot even get a test in many places.
All sports need to be low on the totem pole right now until there is a vaccine developed.
In my view, a lack of testing (something that is being remedied but should’ve happened earlier) is a separate issue. It’s not as if Covid-19 tests are a precious, non-renewable natural resource.
Live sports with audiences are certainly low priority, and something I don’t see happening anytime this year. However, sports without audiences? I think so. Not only do they provide jobs for tons of Americans (beyond those “coddled millionaire athletes”) but they provide a safe form of entertainment (in front of the television) and optimism (unless you’re a Detroit Lions fan) for countless Americans, too.
There are many people who have jobs that derive from sports. But they tend to be food vendors, t-shirt vendors, etc.
Since there will be no spectators their jobs won’t be coming back.
Much of this push to re-instate sports is more about the networks and advertisers cashing in on the $$$.
There are thousands of more jobs that come with sports coming back, even without fans, than you think. Venue employees are only 1/100th of the puzzle.
I work at a venue, not as a vendor or seller. I would be able to go back to work.