ESPN the Weekend begins next week and of all the special events at Walt Disney World, it's perhaps the least well known. Of course, it's also one of the newer annual events (relatively speaking) and for sports fans, it's hard to beat what goes on at Hollywood Studios this weekend. ESPN the Weekend is a celebration of sports and the ESPN brand and there's quite a bit to see and do so if you're looking to see it all, then be sure to follow along for tips on how to best experience this annual celebration of athletics.
Let's start with the overall structure of the weekend and explain how the event really works. ESPN the Weekend takes place over 3 days, but unlike Star Wars Weekends, the events are not the same over the 3 days. Generally a majority of events can be seen once per day, but there are some that occur on only one day of the weekend because of the fact they are tied into ESPN's programming schedule. Be sure to look at the schedule of events once it's available and prioritize which events you want to see.
The highlight of the weekend are the athletes that are slated to appear, but don't be fooled, most likely you won't be able to meet them. Many athletes are coming to ESPN the Weekend, but simply showing up for a televised event and that's it. While it may seem like you'll be able to see and meet the stars listed, be aware the reality is there aren't any real scheduled opportunities to meet the athletes, rather, they will be at an event or two and if you can make that particular event, you can see them. So if your favorite pitcher is Jim Palmer, understand that there will be a small opportunity to actually see him and meeting him is likely not going to happen.
Let's tackle the many events you'll find at ESPN the Weekend. There are a few special events unique to ESPN the Weekend, namely Dream Job and Stump the Schwab. Dream Job is like American Idol but for people who want to try out to be a SportsCenter anchor. Guests audition about 20 minutes before the start of the show to give their best home run/touchdown/goal call on the spot and the top 3 are brought backstage to compete in front of an audience to make a famous sports call as if they were a Sports Center anchor. Fans of SportsCenter will really enjoy it, but if you aren't much of an ESPN fan, feel free to skip it. Stump the Schwab pits a few guests against each other and then against the resident trivia guru to test their sports knowledge. This isn't for the casual trivia buff, because the questions get real hard, real quick. I think this event has a wider appeal than Dream Job, but like Jeopardy, you should have an affinity for sports trivia to truly enjoy it.
You'll also find special non-televised events that are more of a Q&A nature and these are a real treat. Baseball Tonight and NFL Live host these sort of events each year and they feature the cast of the shows with special guest athletes who join in. For fans of the sports, it's pretty interesting and what makes it fun is the hosts and athletes tend to be pretty honest about things and it's refreshing.
In front of the Sorcerer's Hat, you'll find a large stage where lots of televised and non-televised events are held. Throughout the day there are motorcade processions down Hollywood Boulevard with a few athletes at a time as they are brought to the Hat and interviewed with guests invited to watch. In addition, ESPN will broadcast a few select events from this location. You're welcome to watch, but you're like those people at the Today Show that stand around waiting to catch a glimpse of a famous athlete or be on TV for a few seconds. If you find that sort of thing fun, then you can literally spend all day here.
The real center of activities, especially for children, is in the Rock 'n Roller Coaster courtyard at the Interactive Sports Zone, where you can see how fast your fastball is, kids can ride BMX bikes, play pick up games of basketball, learn to play tennis and more. For any kid under the age of 16, it should be a real highlight and it's all free and fun. You'll also find some athletes stopping by randomly to play with the kids. I've seen the Harlem Globetrotters playing a game of basketball with a group of kids and a linebacker from an NFL team playing a game of flag football. There's plenty of adults who'd love to do that but for the kids, it's amazing and unique.
So now that we've outlined the various events, let's examine what's not to be missed at ESPN the Weekend. These are the very best things that if you are going to be at Walt Disney World and want to have a taste of the event
For sports lovers, ESPN the Weekend is a fun experience that is hard to beat. Fans of professional baseball, football and basketball will be especially happy, while fans of other sports will find less for them to do. If you're a casual sports fan, I think you can still enjoy the event but it may be something you'd rather taste a little of, rather than devote an entire day to. Keep in mind that it will be extra crowded at the park during the event, but wait times at non-ESPN the Weekend events shouldn't be impacted too much.
Be sure to follow Studios Central on Twitter for updates throughout ESPN the Weekend live from the event!