In the wake of national polls indicating cost-conscious consumers aren’t eating out as often, the LA Times’ Dawn C. Chmielewski reports Disney plans to close the majority of their ESPN Zone restaurants.
“Since their inception, the Zones have served sports fans very well,” said an ESPN spokesman, who declined to comment further. “But from a pure business perspective, the economics have been challenging.”
Industry analyst Harry Balzer of the NPD Group said casual-dining restaurants like ESPN Zone have been among the hardest hit, as consumers gravitate to less expensive chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill or Panera Bread, which offer sit-down dining at fast-food prices. ESPN may also have suffered from the problem that afflicted Planet Hollywood, which closed several restaurants ” the novelty simply wore off, he said.
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 shopping and entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles. It’s unclear whether that location will remain open. Disney closed the Atlanta and Denver locations last year.
The NYC restaurant, currently based in Times Square, has for several years used the sales pitch of “dine in the same room where Mike Lupica hangs out on Sunday mornings” with limited success. In addition, an attempt to recreate the ambiance of a Vegas sports book (with higher drink prices and no legal gambling) might not have been the most appealing option for families, non-degenerates, etc. A decade ago, the ability to watch your choice of out-of-market sporting events was still rather new ; today, online and satellite options are such that you’re no longer required to vist Applebee’s-On-Steroids to get your televised sports fix.