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Most ESPN Zone Restaurants To Close

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday that it is closing five ESPN Zone restaurants in Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., saying the economics of the business were "very challenging."

The company said that after Tuesday, the only ESPN Zone restaurants to remain open will be in Los Angeles and Anaheim, Calif.

One of those outlets is at the L.A. Live complex, which also houses the studio where ESPN shoots a late edition of its news and highlight show "SportsCenter." That restaurant will be run by Staples Center owner AEG. The other is in the Downtown Disney attraction near Disneyland, on land owned by ESPN parent Disney.

The sports bar and restaurant chain, which has arcade games, big-screen TVs and serves up burgers and beer, was launched in Baltimore's Inner Harbor in July 1998 to expose fans to the brand.

But a review of the business over the last 18 months showed it was suffering from the impact of the recession as fewer people dined out. The first signs of trouble emerged when Disney closed ESPN Zones in Atlanta and Denver last year.

"We didn't see the business turning (around) quickly," said ESPN senior vice president Rick Alessandri in an interview. "It was a call, unfortunately, we had to make."

The closures occurred amid a wide-ranging review of Disney businesses, including an overhaul at its movie studio and staff reductions at its theme parks.

ESPN is focusing its investments elsewhere. This weekend, it is kicking off its coverage of the World Cup, for which it paid $100 million for television rights.

"Our growth is not stopping by any stretch," Alessandri said.


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