SHORTAKES: In An Epic Move, Universal Garnered Millions of Dollars of Free Publicity by Hyping Nothing

UPDATED to include D23

Seven days in advance, invitations went out to members of the Orlando media for a press conference to be held August 1 at the Orlando Convention Center. Theme park bloggers apparently weren’t on the list, which upset quite a few as they expected an announcement of the fourth Universal Orlando park. And they were right.

For the duration of the event, there was no live video feed from Universal and reporters were restricted from live broadcast. In fact, Universal didn’t even share the big announcement on its social media channels until after the event had concluded. It was thanks to tweets from reporters attending that we found out the name (which might change), the logo (which will probably change), and saw a vague conceptual illustration of the park (which is most likely to change). Like it did with Volcano Bay, Universal seems to be redefining the term “park” as Epic Universe includes a CityWalk-type complex and hotels.

From the moment the invites went out and continuing through now, tens of thousands of posts went up on social media channels and websites, speculating about the new park and what it will entail – the kind of publicity that would normally cost Univeral millions. The vagueness was intentional. The event wasn’t an unveiling of what attractions and IP the park will have. It was an economic development briefing on Universal’s investment in the Orlando community and its fiscal partnerships with the State of Florida and Orange County.

The decision to hold the event at the Orange County Convention Center was based on much more than its proximity to and view of the Universal property. The North-South Building of the Convention Center will be undergoing a $605 million expansion, scheduled to be completed in 2023, about the same time as Universal’s Epic Universe. An expansion of Kirkman Road, partially payed for by Universal, will connect the new park directly with the entrance of the North-South Building, placing Universal’s new hotels in a strong position to service conventions and conferences and the new park as the go-to destination for those in town for a convention. Additionally, the Convention Center will soon be home for a permit processing office to expedite new construction at both Universal and the International Drive Corridor.

So why announce now and in such a way? In addition to the August announcements set to take place at Disney’s annual D23 convention, including details on changes to Epcot, there’s another factor influencing the timing. August 1 was the start of cast previews at Walt Disney World’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The new land will continue to gain momentum through its opening on August 29. Then there will be the Mandalorian tv series, a cornerstone program on the new Disney+ streaming service, premiering November 12, the E ticket Rise of the Resistance attraction at Galaxy’s Edge on December 5, and Star Wars Episode IX in theaters on December 19. It’s expected that Star Wars television and film releases will fuel additional visitation to the land. While the Epic Universe news is huge, at this early stage, it risks being overshadowed by the Star Wars momentum in the Orlando market. Universal’s announcement was a preemptive strike, with just enough – a name, a logo, and a very vague illustration – to keep the fans clamoring for more.

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