What Started the Tradition of Super Bowl Winners Saying “I’m Going to Disney World!”?

Patrick Mahomes Magic Kingdom
Credit: Disney

Super Bowl LVIII is coming up quickly on February 11, 2024! While we’re waiting to watch the big game between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, there is one thing we are definitely looking forward to already- the classic “I’m Going to Disney World” ad!

Peyton Manning at Disneyland. Credit: Disney

The ad is now a tradition that many football and Disney fans cannot imagine the Super Bowl without at this point, but there was indeed a time when it was an entirely new idea. If you’ve ever wondered how this fan-favorite ad came out and what happens when the winning MVP indeed does “go to Disney World,” we’ve got you covered:

It was then the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner, who first dreamed up the idea for the memorable ad in 1986.

While most known for launching the “Disney Renaissance,” an important part of Eisner’s time as CEO (1984-2005) was advertising Disney parks and products to a variety of audiences. (If you happen to have an old free vacation planning DVD or…VHS…from this time, you might notice the extra focus on promoting Walt Disney World to couples and older adults along with kids and families.)

Nick Foles at the Magic Kingdom. Credit: Disney.

Related: Super Bowl Winners Won’t Be “Going to Disney World” This Year

Eisner was in the middle of working with Imagineers on plans for Disney MGM Studios (that would open three years later in 1989) when he and his wife Jane Breckenridge (Eisner) were at a dinner with George Lucas, as well as Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager (the aviation duo known for being the first to fly non-stop around the world.)

During this dinner, the group was discussing the aviation accomplishment, and Eisner asked the two, “Well, now that you’ve accomplished the pinnacle of your aspirations, what could you possibly do next?” Rutan smiled and replied, “I’m going to Disneyland!”

Aaron Rodgers at the Magic Kingdom. Credit: Disney

Related: Disney Criticized For Super Bowl Advertisement After Announcing Layoffs… Here’s the Catch

Later, Eisner’s wife Jane recalled moments of conversation from dinner and shared the idea that “I’m going to Disneyland!” could easily make up a new marketing slogan for the Walt Disney Company to use in upcoming promotions.

The following year, Disney officially launched the “What’s Next” campaign, as the “I’m Going to Disneyland” ads are technically called. The first football player to participate was Phil Simms, MVP and quarterback of the New York Giants, who said the line for Disney’s ad following a win against the Denver Broncos at Super Bowl XXI.

Hines Ward at the Magic Kingdom. Credit: ABC

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Simms later admitted some apprehension over doing the ad. However, he was talked into it by his colleagues, and we’re glad for that!

The logistics of the now famous commercial are rather fascinating, as the player is told to say the line when asked, “You just won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do next?” but it is otherwise unscripted and filmed live at the moment.

Disney’s camera crew is waiting to rush to the field and capture the exchange during the live celebration. The song “When You Wish Upon a Star” is added very quickly in post-production so the ad can air almost immediately after it’s shot.

Two takes are shot, one with the MVP saying he’s going to Disneyland and one saying Disney World. Which one you see on TV depends on where you are watching the game, as Disney uses the same retargeting for this commercial as other ads. Which park the players actually go to, however, varies, though it typically just depends on which park is closer to the game.

The Super Bowl-winning MVP is usually the player featured in the ad campaign, but this isn’t always the case, and while the entire team does not usually go to the Disney park, any member of the team is welcome to attend the quick trip to either Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom.

Kurt Warner, MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV. Credit: Disney

In most cases, if someone other than the MVP is shown in the ad or takes the trip, the MVP passes the opportunity onto them. Tom Brady did this, for instance, following Super Bowl LI when he was named the MVP, but he passed the Disney experience on to James White since he made the touchdown that won the game.

In other rare cases, someone other than the MVP is chosen in the first place to participate in the ad. For instance, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was the winning MVP of Super Bowl XXXV; however, due to controversy surrounding his murder trial a year earlier, quarterback Trent Dilfer worked on the ad campaign instead.

Whoever is featured in the ad is under no official obligation to actually go to the parks; as long as some representative from the team is present, the contract with Disney is fulfilled. Who wouldn’t want to go through?

The players who do visit either Disneyland or Walt Disney World are reportedly compensated an estimated $30-70k depending on the parameters of their specific media visit.

Patrick Mahomes Make-A-Wish

Patrick Mahomes with Make-A-Wish families during his Super Bowl trip. Credit: Disney

As far as their trips go, we have to note that these are not “real” Disney vacations. They are very quick visits that last for hours or maybe, at times, a full day, but with so many other celebratory obligations taking place after the Super Bowl, the entire trip is over very quickly.

Oftentimes, the day includes a parade through the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland and visits to new attractions so Disney has footage of the players experiencing new areas of the park to use for their own advertising.

Sometimes, Disney also works with Make-A-Wish to grant a unique set of wishes during the Super Bowl celebrations.

Not too long ago, Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs MVP from Super Bowl LIV, was joined by 17 children from Make-A-Wish on his visit to Walt Disney World. The park portion of the wish was an extension Disney granted on the kids’ original wish of attending the Super Bowl.

That year, Disney also made a donation of $1 million to Make-A-Wish in honor of Mahomes as part of Disney Parks’ role as the presenting sponsor of the Super Bowl MVP ceremony.

Rob Gronkowski Super Bowl

Rob Gronkowkski’s backstage Super Bowl celebration due to COVID-19. Credit: Disney

The only year without a Super Bowl parade since the tradition started was 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers victory, Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady visited the Magic Kingdom, where promotional photos were taken entirely backstage instead of a parade. During this time, masks were still required in all public areas of Walt Disney World, and the above maskless photo of Gronk caused some stir on social media (and it seems to have been removed from Disney’s official channels.)

The parade is filmed in front of ordinary guests, however (the same goes for the parade for the World Series-winning team), so if you happen to be at the right park at the right time, you may see some of your favorite athletes!

Are you looking forward to Super Bowl 2024? Let us know who you want to win in the comments!

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."

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