- Disney and the National Basketball Association this week cut the ribbon on an interactive attraction at Disney Springs, the retail, dining and entertainment district of Walt Disney World in Florida, the amusement corporation announced. The NBA Experience features activities to let guests simulate the sensation of playing professionally and to learn more about the NBA and WNBA.
- Immersive games let visitors practice dunks and test their skills to see how they measure up to professionals before a mock draft.
- The NBA Experience's kickoff ceremony included appearances by NBA and WNBA players, ESPN personalities and Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters, along with performances and merchandise giveaways. Disney built the NBA-themed attraction after tearing down the 19-year-old DisneyQuest interactive indoor theme park in 2017, The Orlando Sentinel reported.
By partnering with Disney on an interactive attraction, the NBA can deepen its ties to fans while raising awareness among the millions of people who visit Walt Disney World every year.
The NBA and sports leagues in general are working to cultivate the next generation of fans among the tech-savvy Generation Z, which has plenty of other entertainment options as video-streaming services, gaming and social media compete for their attention, loyalty and dollars. National NBA viewership declined 5% during the 2018-19 regular season among NBA TV, TNT and Disney-owned ABC and ESPN. Ratings for the NBA Finals plummeted by 19% to an average of 14.3 million viewers per game — the lowest since 2007 — with the absence of star player LeBron James and big-market teams.
The new NBA Experience in Florida demonstrates how the professional sports league is incorporating the latest technologies into interactive experiences to attract and retain fans in person. The NBA worked with Disney's Imagineers, who develop attractions for the company's theme parks, to create the exhibits and immersive experiences. Earlier this year, the NBA released its first app for the Magic Leap One augmented reality headset to let wearers watch live games on virtual screens. The league also struck a multiyear deal with AT&T to be the league's official wireless sponsor, a partnership that planned to create new experiences for fans of the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, NBA 2K League and USA Basketball.
By featuring professional sports stars at the grand opening this week, Disney could leverage the players' popularity and name recognition, potentially extending the debut's reach to social platforms. Through social media, many sports figures have evolved into key influencers with expansive followings, giving fans a more direct connection to their favorite sports stars than in the past. The impact of those athletes-turned-influencers contributes to the overall growth of the sports marketing industry, whose North American revenue from sponsorship and merchandising is set to rise 11% from last year to more than $35 billion by 2022, per a PwC forecast.