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ESPN serves up Grill

Joint venture with Disney plans chain

Looking to get a toehold in the fledgling sports bar business, Disney Regional Entertainment and ESPN on Tuesday jointly announced the launch of a chain of ESPN Grill restaurants that will serve as something of a Chuck E. Cheese for grown-up jocks.

The first ESPN Grills — described as “sports-themed dining and entertainment venues” — are slated to open in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in summer ’98 and in Chicago’s River North neighborhood in spring ’99. Eateries in other major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, are skedded to be added in the months that follow.

Restaurants, each nearly the size of a football field, will ivolve dining in an ESPN “SportsCenter” mockup and viewing big-screen TV monitors from a “skybox” section. The third element is interactive, featuring an entertainment arena where patrons can participate in a variety of sports-oriented games and activities.

Michael Eisner, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., said in a statement, “Just as ESPN is the most exciting place in sports telecasting, we want to make the ESPN Grill the place where fans can share their passion for sports, great food and great fun — a place where the cheering never stops.”

ESPN prexy Steven ornstein added that the complexes will “capture the attitude that has made ESPN the worldwide leader in sports,” while Disney Regional Entertainment prez Art Levitt noted that the establishments would benefit from ESPN’s sports programming savvy and “Disney’s quality of operations and creative expertise to provide an immersing, entertaining experience.”

The ESPN Grill concept is the latest attempt by corporate parent Disney to expand and extend the ESPN brand. It recently launched a themed retail chain entitled ESPN the Store, which in September opened its prototype outlet in the Glendale Galleria. And a biweekly sports publication titled ESPN Magazine is due to be launched in March ’98.

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