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Canton, Ohio Set to Become “Disneyland of Football”

16 Aug, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Already a football mecca (it’s the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame), Canton. Ohio, is working on yet another way of marketing itself – and this one could be a game changer. The area is expected to become the “Disneyland of Football” compete with football-themed rides, a water park, hotels and retail. Expect it to be a major tournament draw, since it will be on the complex of, and packaged with, the Hall, its stadium and sports complex.

There has been no immediate word as to what the name of the new area would be, or whether it would remain a part of the Hall of Fame.

Need to amp up the excitement even more? The former a Disney exec who shepherded the area through the first part of its transformation, is on board for this aspect as well. According to the theme park website, Blooloop, Michael Crawford (who previously had a 25-year career at Disney as senior vice president and general manager of Shanghai Disney Resort and president of Walt Disney Holding Company) plans to create the resort adjacent to the Hall of Fame.

Oh, and did we mention he’s a lifelong Browns fan as well? In short, Crawford has every intention of making this a going concern and driving football tourism.

USA TODAY noted that Crawford’s investment group is positioned for a $300-million second phase later this year. That phase would be expected to conclude in 2022 and, it is hoped, it will be perfectly poised to fill the national need by that time. 

“The people’s hunger and desire to consume sports and be in environments like arenas and stadiums and destinations like this will be at an all-time high,” Crawford told The Wall Street Journal. “We will be building in a down market and opening in an up market.”

Let’s trust him on this. Following his tenure at Disney, Crawford was tapped in 2018 to run the development of the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village, a $900 million sports and entertainment destination next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The new development would serve to focus even more attention on the destination in America’s Heartland, which already offers facilities like the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, named one of the "13 Game-Changing NFL Stadiums" by Forbes.  With over 28,000 square feet event space, the NFL-caliber stadium also includes hospitality and catering options.

The area generally hosts an array of football-related events; a calendar can be found here. These include college games and the upcoming centennial celebration for the NFL (which has its origins as the American Professional Football Association in 1920 in Canton). In the past, the area has been awarded NCAA championship events, as well as independent running championships.

 The new theme park will include the presence of a research facility; there has been no immediate word as to whether this is going to be used for research into the advancement of the game and its equipment, or into related sciences, such as sports medicine.

The combination of theme parks and sports complexes has long been proven to be a winning strategy, with venues stretching from Orlando to Anaheim (ironically, both Disney areas) and multiple destinations in between. The ability for sports commissions and CVBs to recruit youth tournaments (and to encourage extended stays in the complex area) enhances the economic impact of events and often leads to multi-year contacts since families often count on returning annually.

And, it should be noted, we have already seen a sports tournament generate success when it is located in a facility near a theme park; the AAU’s Junior National Volleyball Championships was held in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center.

The new development in Canton adds to an array of attractions, includingthe William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, which chronicles the life of the 25th president (who spent much of his time in Canton). It also has a planetarium. Nearby is McKinley’s tomb as well as golf courses, vineyards, a classic car museum and other attractions, according to Visit Canton.

The addition of the theme park would expand upon Canton’s visitor appeal, likely making it even more inviting to sports events.

And ultimately, noted USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson, “The whole "I'm going to Disneyland" post-Super Bowl adage could take on a new meaning now.”

If the idea of a sports-themed theme park seems odd to you, don’t get too weirded out. Bass Pro Shop founder and conservationist Johnny Morris just purchased a derelict theme park in Arkansas (currently named Dogpatch USA) with the intent of turning it into a nature-based attraction, helping to connect families with the planet and its issues.

Don’t choke yet. In Denver, there is already a theme park, Mile High Funtown 420, in that is centered on cannabis.

“The main, and biggest attraction will actually take up about 80% of the park and it will just be a real big area full of bean bag chairs where you can just relax and chill out for a while… high, of course. We call that attraction, Chill Out on a Bean Bag Town sponsored by Doritos,” said Mile High Funtown 420 Director of Fungineering, Connor Geertz. “I know that name seems really, oddly specific but the people enjoying our park will be really, really high so things will have to be named using words that are very clear and really easy to understand.”

Other attractions include the Totino’s Pizza Bites chill out area full of bunk beds, a chill out area full blankets (are we noting a theme here?) and a Sponge Bob Squarepants-inspired “beach,” booths for black light posters and a spinning bong ride.

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