- NBA team Orlando Magic, located just a few miles from Walt Disney World, are forging strong ties with the world-famous theme park
- Gametime tickets partnership helps Magic reach Millennials and casual fans more effectively
- Daktronics screen at the Amway Center offers mix of partner messages, instant replays, entertainment and match statistics
When you’re an entertainment venue located just a few miles from the world’s No.1 family tourist attraction, you better be sure that you can cater for mum, dad and the little ones.
Orlando Magic, of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Southeast Division, play at the Amway Center, just 20 miles from the Disney World complex and the 17.5m tourists it attracts every year.
Time away with the family is fabulous, but after being led by the kids’ love of rollercoasters, light entertainment and adult-sized mice and ducks for a week, the sports connoisseur must begin to look at other options.
Florida’s most famous sports teams, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and NBA’s Miami Heat, are located a good three-hour drive from the Disney Resort just outside Orlando.
The Magic, on the other hand, are just a $20 ride in a peak-time Uber away, and with NBA games taking place every couple of evenings during a packed season, attending a home match during our two weeks in Florida looked a distinct possibility.
“But what if the kids are tired by the evening?” my wife asked. Fortunately, the Magic’s new direct distribution partnership with last-minute tickets specialist Gametime meant we could leave it to the last moment before buying, taking into consideration the kids’ energy levels, prices and availability.
Our schedule suggested a Wednesday evening game against the New York Knicks might be a goer, and having downloaded the Gametime app, I spent the day monitoring fluctuations in price.
San Francisco-based Gametime is taking US sports by storm, attracting Millennials in their hordes – approximately 70 per cent of its users are from this demographic – and agreeing partnerships with more than a dozen major sports teams. Business magazine Inc. named it the US’s fastest-growing consumer brand in August and you can see why. The app was certainly user-friendly and there were great deals to be had. We plumped for four Club Level seats.
IMAGE: Gametime recently announced a ticketing partnership with Orlando Magic and 13 other major North American sports teams
With mobile tickets secured and added to our Magic mobile app, we set off for the Amway. We wouldn’t be leaving Mickey and Donald behind completely thanks to a series of partnerships between the entertainment and tourism giant, and the Magic.
The two organisations recognised some years ago that closer links could be mutually beneficial, with the resort becoming the presenting sponsor of the arena’s atrium when it opened in 2010. In June 2017 it was announced Disney would be the Magic’s first jersey sponsor in a three-year deal that, according to George A. Kalogridis, Walt Disney World president, “symbolises our shared focus of solidifying Orlando as a world-class city for sports”.
As well as the Walt Disney World Terrace, the hospitality area that receives considerable courtside prominence thanks to a neon sign, and shirt patch, Disney’s presence at the Amway Center is substantial, with news of special offers and advertisements displayed on the video screen. Disney also hosted one of the fast-paced timeout entertainment sections out on court, with fans able to win prizes by solving a Mickey Mouse-themed puzzle.
The Amway Center itself is one of the most advanced in the NBA, built just seven years ago for $380m (€320m) with the Magic as developer and primary tenant. Owned and operated by the City of Orlando, its exterior is a modern blend of metal and glass, along with ever-changing graphics via a monumental LED screen wall. Its 180-foot tall spire serves as a beacon amid the downtown skyline, reminding international visitors that this is a sports town too.
The Amway seats 18,500 for basketball games and 19,700 as a music venue. Ahead of a game, the arena’s pedestrianised exterior was taken over by Fan Fest, offering music, food and activities. Basketball fans and newbies could shoot hoops – aiming for static, conventional backboards on a stand or mini rings attached to the foreheads of brave hype-crew members.
The venue is close to Church Street, the hub of Orlando’s rebirth as a foodie and entertainment destination. Entering the Amway, the thorough security regime – including metal detectors and bag searches – was unimposing and speedy. We scanned our mobile tickets in the blink of an eye and then set about getting a few photos in the foyer.
An eagle-eyed and welcoming hype-crew member introduced himself and offered to get a snap of the four of us together. Reactive to the fact that we were tourists and NBA newbies, he then enthusiastically gave us a run-down of the Magic team and what to expect from a night at our first basketball match.
IMAGE: Disney is the first jersey sponsor of Orlando Magic (Getty Images)
Having been furnished with a few ‘Go Magic’ signs, we were directed to the elevator and zoomed up to the Club Level, situated on the fourth of eight floors. These provided access to Club Level amenities, including the Craft Beer Bar and a range of reasonably-priced concession stands. With little wait to place our order (two cheese burgers and fries, two hot dogs and fries, plus a couple of beers and soft drinks for around $70), we ate at one of the numerous stylish bistro tables as the atmosphere began to build.
Food and drink can also be ordered via Express Pickup and In-Seat Delivery options on the Venue Next-designed Magic mobile app, an invaluable tool that also allows fans to buy tickets and merchandise, and make dining reservations. The free Wi-Fi service was as good as the food, with full service even outside the arena, meaning images and video from the game could be quickly uploaded to social media.
Entering the arena, we were directed to our comfortable and spacious seats and were immediately struck by the Daktronics suspended scoreboard, one of the largest of its type in North America. Big enough to beam videos, social media updates, information and adverts simultaneously, the screen plays a central role in the night’s entertainment, offering statistics and instant replays that were of particular benefit to the rookie fan.
The screen also allowed the Magic’s partners to interact creatively with spectators. Fast-food chain Chick-fil-A’s special offer of a free chicken sandwich to all ticket-holders when the team grabbed their fifth three-pointer of the night was particularly welcome.
After a bombastic light show, the game was fast and furious, and intervals were filled by an eclectic mix of entertainment, from human skittles to dancing and on-court interviews. Loud music was often played throughout the game, while the newbies’ understanding of the action was aided by commentary that explained the referees’ decisions and scoring.
Enthused by the Magic’s 112-99 win, it was only right that we headed to the team store to pick up a few souvenirs of a great experience. We grabbed a ball, wallet, cap and girls’ sweater for around $60.
US sport and its penchant for razzmatazz may be open to mockery from those brought up on the grittier experience of attending events in Europe, but our night of basketball action in Orlando was wholly enjoyable. Thanks to the app, we’ve been staying up to date with the fortunes of our favourite NBA team long after our return flight from Florida; it’s a small world after all.
EXTRA | Ratings
Value 8/10: Excellent pricing on food and beverages, with a family able to eat well in nice surroundings for just $70. Match tickets cost as little as $20 on the day via Gametime, with high-value terrace sideline seats at around $280.
Ease 8/10: Ample parking at the venue as well as options via local public transport services. Good Wi-Fi outside the arena means organising an Uber is simple. The Magic mobile app stores digital tickets and the chance to pre-order food and merchandise.
Recommendation 8/10: Orlando Magic may not be the hottest property in US sport, but they offer a great night out and the opportunity to watch stars of the NBA at a good price. Located so close to Disney World, any sports fans taking a family trip to Florida would be well advised to head down to the Amway Center.
EXTRA | Selected concession prices
Magic burger with fries $13.50
Hot dog with fries $10
Hot dog $4.50
Magic burger $8
Small soda $4.50