ESPN turns Disney California Adventure into a NFL Super Bowl tailgate party
Disney California Adventure has been turned into an NFL football tailgate party as the Anaheim theme park serves as the home base for ESPN’s Super Bowl live coverage until the big game on Sunday when all eyes turn to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
The Disneyland resort is playing a starring role in the news, analysis and commentary segments broadcast on ESPN in the days building up to Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, Feb. 13.
ESPN is broadcasting “SportsCenter,” “NFL Live,” “Postseason NFL Countdown” and “NFL Matchup” Super Bowl preview shows from the “World of Color” viewing area on DCA’s Paradise Bay through Super Bowl Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams host the Cincinnati Bengals.
The ESPN location on the edge of Paradise Bay with the Incredicoaster and Pixar Pal-A-Round eccentric wheel in the background essentially turns DCA into a five-day version of the sports network’s “College GameDay” show that pops up on Saturdays in the fall at USC, UCLA and other college football hotbeds hosting the college football game of the week.
ESPN broadcaster Laura Rutledge, center, has a friendly banter with co-hosts Keyshawn Johnson, left, and Marcus Spears, right, during an ESPN Super Bowl preview show broadcast from Disney California Adventure in Anaheim on Thursday, February 10, 2022. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Goofy, left, rallies the crowd gathered to watch ESPN broadcasts a Super Bowl preview show from Disney California Adventure in Anaheim on Thursday, February 10, 2022. ESPN will broadcast from Disney California Adventure through Super Bowl Sunday. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Visitors to Disney’s California Adventure gather along a railing to watch ESPN broadcast a Super Bowl preview show in Anaheim on Thursday, February 10, 2022. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
ESPN broadcasts a Super Bowl preview show from Disney California Adventure in Anaheim on Thursday, February 10, 2022 Pictured, from left, are hosts Dan Orlovsky, Keyshawn Johnson, Laura Rutledge, Marcus Spears and Mina Kimes. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
ESPN hosts Laura Rutledge, Keyshawn Johnson and Mina Kimes share a laugh during an ESPN Super Bowl preview show broadcast from Disney California Adventure in Anaheim on Thursday, February 10, 2022. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
ESPN host Dan Orlovsky makes a point during an ESPN Super Bowl preview show broadcast from Disney California Adventure in Anaheim on Thursday, February 10, 2022. Orlovsky was joined by co-hosts, Keyshawn Johnson, Laura Rutledge, Marcus Spears and Mina Kimes. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Mickey and Minnie pose for a photo with ESPN hosts following a Super Bowl preview show broadcast from Disney California Adventure in Anaheim on Thursday, February 10, 2022 Pictured, from left, are co-hosts Dan Orlovsky, Keyshawn Johnson, Laura Rutledge, Marcus Spears and Mina Kimes. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
For NFL fans, it’s a front row opportunity to spot about 20 ESPN commentators and analysts on the DCA stage and to play a cameo role in the live broadcasts as the cheering crowd in the background.
On Thursday afternoon, ESPN’s “NFL Live” team took the stage with former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, former Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears, former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky, ESPN analyst Mina Kimes and show host Laura Rutledge.
In between broadcasts, the ESPN on-air crew enjoyed Disneyland and DCA rides with Rutledge hopping on Pirates of the Caribbean, Spears tackling Radiator Springs Racers and Orlovsky braving Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Incredicoaster.
Over in Avengers Campus, Spears posed for photos with Iron Man, Black Widow and the Dora Milaje female warriors from “Black Panther.”
“We’re having the time of our lives,” Rutledge said from the stage.
Spears and Kimes rode the video game-like Web Slingers attraction together — slinging webs like Spider-Man by flinging their arms at Spider-Bots on the ride’s massive screens. Kimes came out on top — despite her diminutive frame compared to Spears’ defensive end physique.
“You got beat by somebody who’s got noodle arms,” said Rutledge, talking trash from the stage.
Still on the ride agenda for ESPN talent over the next couple days: Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout and Rise of the Resistance.
It’s hard to miss the 25-foot-tall ESPN stage on the edge of DCA’s Paradise Bay in the “World of Color” viewing area under a canopy bristling with two dozen TV lights. Four black pop-up tents next to the stage housed ESPN tech support and a small green room for makeup and wardrobe.
The ESPN talent — many of whom live near the broadcaster’s Bristol, Connecticut, headquarters — were clearly enjoying Southern California’s unseasonably warm February weather. The mid-80s temperatures at DCA on Thursday were a far cry from the mid-40s back home in Connecticut. Air conditioning units behind the stage pumped cool air onto the stars baking in the midday afternoon sun. The black coffee mugs with gold Disneyland “D” logos on the ESPN desk were regularly filled with ice-cold water rather than hot Joe.
The ESPN stars occasionally had to compete with the realities of broadcasting from an operating theme park. A Lunar New Year processional — complete with an amplified soundtrack and pounding drums — traveled along the DCA parade route with a puppet snaking dragon directly in the field of view of the “NFL Live” crew. Such is the life of ESPN stars on the road to the Super Bowl.
Whenever the broadcast needed a different look the ESPN team walked 10 yards to a nearby 8-foot-wide big screen monitor with the Little Mermaid dark ride in the background.
The “World of Color” water jets in Paradise Bay never made an appearance during the Super Bowl broadcasts from DCA — offering no hint of the nighttime spectacular’s imminent return.
Hometown Rams fans were out in force in blue and gold t-shirts, jerseys, hats and even COVID-19 masks. The Bengals faithful were nowhere to be seen — although one long-suffering fan apparently showed up on Wednesday for the first day of broadcasts. NFL fans of all stripes showed their pride in Raiders, 49ers, Broncos, Buccaneers, Saints and Titans colors.
ESPN wranglers with the help of Disney characters got the gathered fans pumped up for steady-cam live shots of the crowds with the Golden Zephyr and Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure in the background.
“We’ve got a lot more coming on ‘NFL Live’ from Disney California Adventure,” Rutledge said from the stage to whoops and hollers from the crowd.
Referee Goofy and ballplayer Pluto boasting a gold medal tossed a pantomimed football back and forth to the delight of the crowd. The first pass went comically over Pluto’s head — with Mickey’s trusty dog searching for the invisible football in the bushes. The next pass was on target and Pluto spiked the pretend pigskin with gusto to the cheers of the crowd.
Mickey Mouse made an appearance later in a red and black tracksuit with Minnie in a matching cheerleader outfit.
Donald and Daisy were out in sporting gear on Wednesday and expected to make recurring ESPN appearances throughout the week.
Affable QB Orlovsky worked the rope line chatting with NFL fans in Mickey Mouse T-shirts and tossing out jokes to the crowd.
“How do you throw a party in outer space?” Orlovsky shouted to the fans. “You planet.”
At the end of the “NFL Live” broadcast, ESPN’s on-air team posed for photos in Mickey ears with Disney’s most famous mouse couple.
ESPN is also hosting a Super Bowl fan experience in Downtown Disney in the esplanade between Tortilla Jo’s and Splitsville Luxury Lanes from 1-7 p.m. through Feb. 13.
The ESPN Super Bowl fan experience in Downtown Disney turned out to be little more than a couple of birthday party games suitable for 5-year-olds rather than NFL fans. There were a couple of ring toss-type games featuring rubber chickens that drew sparse crowds. A large queue set up for anticipated crowds went unused. Game winners could pick up a free sample of ESPN “postseasoning” spice blend on the way out.
Next door, Splitsville was serving at Michelada Bowl ($17) and Bloody Mary ($13) with postseasoning spice blend on the rim.
Segments of ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” “NFL Live,” “Postseason NFL Countdown” and “NFL Matchup” will be broadcast from DCA between noon and 6 p.m. through Saturday, Feb. 12 and 8-11 a.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.
Theme park admission and reservations are required to watch the ESPN broadcasts inside Disney California Adventure.