ESPN Zone: Meetings business is its game

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LAS VEGAS -- Start spreadin' the news.

Officials representing the newest ESPN Zone, which is scheduled to open in July at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino here, want the world to know that the sports-themed dining and entertainment complex has meeting space as well as games.

"Word is getting out [about the restaurants' capability to host groups] as we open more and more units across the U.S.," said Don Gross, director of sales for Burbank, Calif.-based Disney Regional Entertainment, a division of Walt Disney Co., which owns and operates the ESPN Zone chain.

"Once groups come in and experience what we offer, from how the facility is designed to how incredible our culinary displays are, [they're hooked]."

According to Gross, the company's group business began, more or less, as an accident, stemming from ESPN's live broadcasts from the chain's first restaurant in Baltimore, which opened in July 1998.

A rendering of the ESPN Zone sports-themed complex as viewed from the Strip. "We started getting inquiries about the place, and all of a sudden we had companies wanting to buy out the Screening Room [area]," he said.

Now, nearly three years later, this niche "definitely has evolved," Gross said. "As our business has matured, so has our group business.

"In [Washington], D.C., we do a lot of student groups," he added. "In Las Vegas, the convention market is going to be extremely strong for us, while in Chicago, it's the convention plus the local corporate markets. We target anything from student groups to corporations to conventions. It just depends on the market."

From the company's beginning, ESPN Zone officials have had their eye on Las Vegas as a potential market "because of the city's incredible amount of tourism, its booming local economy and its passion for sports and sports history," said Randall Baumberger, vice president and general manager of Disney Regional Entertainment.

"We were just looking for the right property, the right fit, which we believe we have found with New York-New York," Baumberger said.

"We have fantastic visibility there."

The 33,000-square-foot Las Vegas venue will be a two-story structure marked by entrances on Las Vegas Boulevard and in New York-New York's casino.

Inside, the facility will include several distinct rooms or areas that, separately or combined, can accommodate groups ranging in size from 20 people to 1,000 people, Gross said.

Groups have the option of renting out the entire restaurant or just using some of its rooms, he added.

ESPN Zone is scheduled to open in July at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino. The Studio Grill, whose menu usually features -- what else? -- food fresh from the grill, can seat up to 115 people or handle 175 people reception-style.

The Screening Room, with two 14-foot television screens and a dozen 36-inch video monitors, will offer tiered seating for those who want to watch more than one sporting event at once.

The room also will offer a dozen Zone Thrones, leather reclining chairs that have speakers in the headrests.

For meeting purposes, the room can seat up to 100 people or accommodate 150 people reception-style.

The Skybox, which usually functions as an exclusive VIP reception area, can accommodate 10 to 15 people.

The SportsCenter Bar can handle up to 50 people and features a video wall, while the Trophy Lounge also can seat up to 50 people or fit 75 people reception-style.

The restaurant will include the Bristol Suite, a private dining and reception area that can seat up to 50 people and accommodate receptions of up to 70 people.

Perhaps what will be one of the most popular areas is the 10,000-square-foot Sports Arena, which will offer a variety of interactive games such basketball (there will be a half-length basketball court), rock climbing (there will be a rock wall) and simulated motorcycle racing (there will be Harley-Davidsons).

According to Gross, this area can hold from 150 to 200 people.

"We really try to involve all of our groups with the arena," he said.

"Groups like that they can dine downstairs and then go upstairs to enjoy [this] area. People who wouldn't normally get into this type of thing go nuts up there. They're on the rock walls, on the Harleys.

"The arena adds a unique dynamic to what could be just another meeting."

The restaurant's audiovisual offerings are nothing to sneeze at, either.

All told, the Las Vegas location will feature more than 165 television monitors a well as production capabilities for both radio and TV programs and videoconferences with other ESPN Zones and ESPN Studios in Bristol, Conn.

"[At other ESPN Zone locations], companies come in and do breakfast meetings, they utilize the multimedia [capabilities]," Gross said. "We've hosted PowerPoint presentations and, in New York, we've done fashion shows."

The Las Vegas facility will be the seventh ESPN Zone opened since 1998.

Other locations include Atlanta; Anaheim, Calif.; Baltimore; Chicago; New York, and Washington.

For more information about the Las Vegas ESPN Zone, contact sales manager Andrea Rice by phone at (702) 933-3776 or by fax at (702) 933-6509.

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