Disney to close most ESPN Zone outlets

June 09, 2010|Dawn C. Chmielewski

Walt Disney Co. is shutting down most of its ESPN Zone stores, a chain of sports-themed restaurants in seven cities, according to a person familiar with the matter. The only outlets to remain open are those tied to a Disney property, such as the Downtown Disney shopping district in Anaheim.

ESPN Zone opened in 1998 to capitalize on ESPN's brand while bringing Disney's family-friendly atmosphere to the sports bar concept. The upscale eateries serve burgers and brews as walls of big-screen TVs beam sporting events into the dining area. Separate rooms provide access to interactive games such as virtual golf.

It's unclear what has prompted Disney to close the establishments, although the bars may well be a casualty of the recession.

"Since their inception, the Zones have served sports fans very well," an ESPN spokesman said. "But from a pure business perspective, the economics have been challenging."

Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for research firm NPD Group, said the restaurant business was undergoing its biggest decline in three decades.

"This year was horrible," Balzer said. "A restaurant meal is a very discretionary behavior. You could always eat at home and save money doing it. And going out for dinner is the most expensive food you could buy."

In addition to Anaheim, Disney operates ESPN Zone restaurants in Baltimore, Chicago, Las Vegas, New York and Washington. The company also licenses the ESPN Zone brand to a restaurant at the L.A. Live complex in downtown Los Angeles. It's unclear whether that location will remain open.


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