ESPN Zone is a Southern California-based chain of two sports-themed restaurants that include arcades, TV studios, and radio studios that are currently franchised, but formally owned by the American cable network ESPN. The first ESPN Zone opened in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 11, 1998, in the Power Plant on the Inner Harbor. This was a pivotal moment in Disney's history as it was the first ever major business venture outside of Disney's highly controlled theme parks. Producer for the grand opening event was Paulette Wolfe Entertainment, Ivan Healy Purvis was charged with the task of production director advising Disney on the best systems and logistics of this ground breaking event. It transformed what was once a massive brick building that housed coal-fired generators for the city trolley system into a dining and entertainment complex. It proved to be a cornerstone in the development of Baltimore's Inner Harbor before its sudden closure in June 2010.
As of June 16, 2010, there are two ESPN Zones, both located in Southern California. Besides the L. A. Live location, the other ESPN Zone is located in nearby Anaheim in Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort As part of the decision by The Walt Disney Company through their Disney Regional Entertainment division to no longer operate the restaurants in 2010, they sold the rights to operate the location in Anaheim to Zone Enterprises of Anaheim, and the Los Angeles location to Anschutz Entertainment Group, the company that owns the L.A. Live and Staples Center locations.
There is also a restaurant called ESPN Club at Disney's BoardWalk Inn and an ESPN Grill at ESPN Wide World of Sports, both located within the Walt Disney World complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. However, they are not related to ESPN Zone restaurants.
All of the ESPN Zone restaurants were equipped to be remote ESPN broadcast locations, though only two were used to house regular series. The Anaheim ESPN Zone was the home of the final two years of the long-running interview program Up Close from 1999 to 2001 and the entire run of its short-lived replacement, Unscripted with Chris Connelly, from 2001 to 2002. The ESPN Zone in New York City's Times Square was used as the location of the Monday Night Football halftime show for several years. The weekly series The Sports Reporters was broadcast from the Times Square location every Sunday morning from its opening until its closing, at which point the show moved to ESPN's home base in Bristol, Connecticut.
Several of the locations also had radio studios, used by the local ESPN Radio affiliate and leased to other stations on occasion.
Ultimate Couch Potato
ESPN Zone regularly hosts events featuring athletes from local professional teams.123 Their most notable event is the Ultimate Couch Potato Competition, a competitive sitting competition. Held on January 1, four competitors try to out-sit each other while watching non-stop sports. Bathroom breaks are permitted only every eight hours and there is a five minute stretch-break every hour; they may eat and drink as much as they want. In 2009, competitions were held in New York, Chicago and Baltimore. The 2009 Ultimate Couch Potato in Baltimore, Maryland unofficially broke the Guinness World Record by sitting and watching consecutive sports for an unprecedented 70 hours, and 45 seconds.4 The 2009 event received a lot of attention nationally as well as from international outlets like the popular Australian television show Sunrise. The 2010 Ultimate Couch Potato in Chicago, Illinois broke an ESPN Zone record and also unofficially broke the Guinness World Record by watching 72 hours of non-stop sports.5 He is the only Ultimate Couch Potato competitor to win three years in a row.6 Unrelated to the competition, Suresh Joachim set the official world record with 69 hours and 48 minutes in 2005.7
Ultimate Couch Potato Winners:
|2003 Brett Farrenkopf: 14 hours 30 minutes|
|2004 Patrick Arnold: 18 hours 30 minutes|
|2005 Chris Connelly: 20 hours|
|2006 Jason Pisarik: 32 hours|
|2007 Jason Pisarik: 39 hours 55 minutes|
|2008 Jeff Miller: 40 hours 30 minutes||2008 Stan Friedman: 29 hours|
|2009 Jeff Miller: 39 hours 2 minutes||2009 Stan Friedman: 19 hours 48 minutes||2009 Jessica Mosley: 70 hours 45 seconds|
|2010 Jeff Miller: 72 hours||2010 Jorge Cruz: 48 hours 15 minutes 1 second||2010 Jessica Mosley: 32 hours 59 minutes 14 seconds|
In 2009, Disney Regional Entertainment closed two ESPN Zone locations. A restaurant in Denver, Colorado, closed in June,8 and another in Atlanta, Georgia, closed in October of that year.9 The Atlanta location had opened in 2000,9 while the Denver location opened in 2001.8 In both cases, Disney Regional Entertainment cited the "economic environment" as the reason for the closures.89
In June 2010, Disney announced that the following ESPN Zone locations would be closing by the middle of the month, leaving only the Anaheim and Los Angeles locations in operation, with their final day of business on June 15, 2010:
- Baltimore, on the Inner Harbor
- Chicago, at the corner of Ohio and Wabash
- Las Vegas, at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino
- New York City, at Times Square
- Washington, D.C., located Downtown in the Thurman Arnold Building
- ESPNZone at Yesterland
- Orange County Restaurant & Dining Guide orange-county-restaurant.info
- The Ultimate Couch Potato ESPN Zone
- Jessica Kartalija (2009-01-04). "Baltimore Crowns Ultimate Couch Potato". WJZ.com. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- "Topic Galleries". Chicago Tribune.
- http://www.startribune.com/sports/80864012.html?elr=KArksi8cyaiUo8cyaiUiacyKUnciaec8O7EyUr This link is defunct.
- Associated Press (2005-09-16). "World’s top ‘Couch Potato’ stares way to title". MSNBC.com. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- Tyler Lopez (2009-06-29). "Denver's ESPN Zone Closed". TheDenverChannel.com. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- Richard Eldredge (2009-10-01). "ESPN Zone in Buckhead closes". AJC.com. Retrieved 2009-10-02.