The MAAC, the Mouse, & ESPN3: Hosting MAAC Fall Championships at Walt Disney World
By: Kyle Sturley, Director of Championships and Special Events
By the time this is posted, the 2011 MAAC Men’s Soccer Championship at ESPN Wide World of Sports will have concluded in sunny Orlando, Florida and I’ll be back home in New Jersey. I had planned on posting this blog earlier, but of the 7 days our MAAC staff spent in Orlando, I had about 2 hours of free time… and 1.5 of those hours was right after we got off the plane. It also would have been pretty cool to keep up a live, running blog during the event, but such is life in sports operations, and that’s what we have Twitter for (Hint hint: @MAACSports). The hours are certainly the one thing you can count on when you work in sports: not what the hours will be, of course, but that you will be working a large number of them! That being said, I have been looking forward to this event since my first day with the MAAC back in mid-July.
The process of planning any athletic event is already quite detailed, but when you add a thousand miles of travel, a global icon like Disney, and live ESPN broadcasts to the mix, it becomes even more complex. Airfare for more than 250 student-athletes and nearly 800 hotel room nights are just the beginning: there are practice schedules, game balls, timing sheets, school banners, awards, photography, announcer scripts, and so many more things have to be created, organized and shipped. Putting that all aside, when you consider that the MAAC has been bringing teams to compete at Disney since 1998, you’ll start to realize how much we believe in the experience it gives to our student-athletes.
If you’re never had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World, it really should be on your bucket list. I am admittedly biased in that I grew up with family in Orlando and visited annually, and also recently completed a yearlong internship with Disney Sports before moving to the MAAC. While Walt Disney World is known primarily for its family entertainment based around 4 theme parks, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has gained notoriety as one of the best multi-sport facilities in the US, if not the world. The complex is over 220 acres, and currently home to 24 fields (with 4 more to open later this year), a baseball stadium, track & field complex, and 2 large indoor multi-sport facilities. In short, it gives us the flexibility to rotate all of our fall sports to the facility, maximizing the number of MAAC student-athletes that get to experience a 10-team championship in the most magical place on earth. The MAAC prides itself in having a tradition of excellence in both academics and athletics, and the 4-year rotation amongst women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s soccer and cross country is even more incentive for these student-athletes to work hard both in and out of the classroom. The promise of competing at Disney is the reward to years of effort, and the Disney championships are also great for coaches to reference when recruiting- the MAAC tries to provide an experience that no other conference does.
Another positive aspect of holding our MAAC championships at ESPN Wide World of Sports is the recent addition of the ESPN Production Center, which opened in 2010. A small, unassuming building hidden next to a loading dock, this broadcast hub is staffed by skilled ESPN personnel and negates the need for a travelling TV truck & production crew. It also allows the same high quality broadcasts to be produced for a fraction of the cost of traditional TV, making it possible for the MAAC to broadcast more games than ever before. Coaches and student-athletes have the opportunity to showcase their team, and even give live interviews during breaks in the competition. This year, a total of 5 men’s soccer games were broadcast live on ESPN3, giving tremendous national exposure to our conference and all ten full member institutions.
I hope this has provided a little insight into why a conference based entirely in the Northeast is willing to travel so far to host championships in Orlando, Florida. At the end of the day, it all comes back to the experience for the student athlete, and we’re confident that our partnership with Disney allows us to provide one of the best experiences in college sports!