In a surprising move that came over-night for customers as well as the staff members the ESPN Zone Denver was closed effective June 29, 2009. The ESPN Zone is part of Disney Regional Entertainment and combines a sports bar and restaurant with an ESPN merchandise store as well as an arcade style area featuring in particular games that require physical action as well (more on the official website of the chain).

According to reports by the Denver Post and 9NEWS guests and staff of the ESPN Zone that had opened in December 2001 were greated by a darkened place and closed doors on which the following note had been plastered:

June 29, 2009

ESPN Zone Denver has discontinued its Downtown Denver business operation today.

Regynald Washington, vice president and general manager, Disney Regional Entertainment:

“The overall economics of continuing this operation were very challenging. We have enjoyed being a partner of the Denver community for the past eight years. We thank our loyal patrons and believe we provided our customers with a great experience.”

Rick Alessandri, senior vice president, ESPN, who oversees Zone operations for ESPN:

“A decision like this is never easy. We recognize and appreciate the commitment and years of service of all of these employees. Unfortunately, the current economic environment offered us no other choice.”

ESPN Zone Denver opened it doors in December 2001 and had approximately 100 employees. Employees received a 60 day administrative leave package.

According to poster gwtw60 on the website of 9NEWS who states that he was a staff member of the now closed ESPN Zone “There was no early morning meeting for us. We were directed, by text message, to a conference room in the Westin to pick up our severance package information. The only people we met were two people from Disney whose job it was to explain the package and wish us luck.”

Considering that according to the note the closure was due to economic reasons the suddeness of the move comes surprising – but then interestingly the various press reports already name a follow-up tenant for part of the 23,000-square-foot space that the ESPN zone occupied – a new location for the cletish themed chain “The Tilted Kilt” restaurant and sports bar that signed a 8,300-square-foot lease. So one might wonder when the actual decision to close the location was made – and why the situation, in particular for the staff, was handled the way it was. While not bearing the Disney brand the ESPN Zone is after all operated by Disney Regional Entertainment so the handling of situation like this does have an impact on the overall Disney brand.

However, the big question that has come up with the closure also is: is it just a local issure or is Disney Regional Entertainment having a more severe problem at its hand with the whole chain? So far the ESPN Zone chain was the poster child of Disney Regional Entertainment. The Denver Business Journal states that none of the remaining eight other ESPN Zone locations will be closed. The article cites Matt Kovacs, a spokesmen for the chain, saying that the remaining locations “are meeting our expectations“.

One of these eight remaining locations is part of Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort Anaheim. The closure of the Virgin Mega Store at Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World had also fueled rumors (or one may say: hopes among some fans) that an ESPN Zone would take over that vacant space, as WDW so far only features an “ESPN Club” restaurant and merchandise store in the Broadwalk area of the resort. However, so far no according announcement has been made and at least temporarily the whole ground level of the former Virgin Mega Store will be used till November 30 for the exhibition “DIANA–The People’s Princess”. On display are artefacts from Princess Diana including various dresses worn be her – the exhibition is not prepared or operated by The Walt Disney Company or the resort and requires separate admission ($14.50 ages 10 and above, $5 ages 3-9); hours are 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.

But back to the ESPN Zone chain – an ESPN Zone is also regularly mentioned as a rumored addition to the Disney Village at the Disneyland Resort Paris. While no substantial information was or is available to support that rumor it has seen a recent revival, most probably due to the increased visibility of ESPN on European tv.

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