Disney’s latest expansion at ESPN Wide World of Sports is the first in the world designed for cheerleading and dance team competitions.

The 8000-seat venue is recognition of the sport’s growing popularity. Last year, 220 teams competed in the College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship at the Wide World of Sports. The number of teams increased by 14 percent from the previous year, and more than 20,000 spectators watched the competition.

Disney teamed up to design the new space with Varsity Spirit, which sells cheer and dance apparel and organizes competitions. Varsity Spirit already hosts six cheer and dance team events annually at the complex.

About 3.7 million youths participate in cheer nationwide, either through community and school squads or private cheer gyms, according to estimates from Varsity.

The new addition at Wide World of Sports will include performance and warm-up space for cheer and dance competitions. The multiuse space can also convert to six basketball courts, six volleyball courts or concert configurations. A new box office, parking lot and entry to the complex are all part of the project.

Construction of the 286,000-square-foot complex is underway and it is scheduled to open later this year.

“Varsity Spirit invented the modern-day cheerleading and dance competition and we are proud to be the force behind this project, which represents our commitment to providing the very best and safest environment in the world for our athletes and coaches,” said Jeff Webb, founder and chairman of Varsity Brands.

The new venue will host Varsity Spirit’s National High School Cheerleading Championship, which brings more than 650 teams to Orlando.

“As our sports business continues to grow, we’re thrilled to work alongside Varsity Spirit to create a sporting and entertainment venue that will not only complement our existing venues, but will be a model for cheerleading and dance team competitions,” said Maribeth Bisienere, senior vice president of ESPN Wide World of Sports.

The complex is a logical fit for ESPN, which televises cheerleading tournaments, showcasing the strength, agility and rhythm of the athletes.

Disney will move the Night of Joy event this year to ESPN Wide World of Sports, emphasizing the use of the complex as a sport and entertainment venue.

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