Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Disney CEO says sports betting is a reason for keeping ESPN

Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the ESPN sports networks are critical to his overall vision of the company, one that involves more direct connections to consumers, including wagering on sports.

“Sports betting is a part of what our younger, say, under-35 sports audience is telling us they want as part of their sports lifestyle,” Chapek said in an interview at Disney’s D23 fan event in Anaheim, California. Asked if the company was developing an ESPN sports-betting app, Chapek said: “We’re working very hard on that.” 

ESPN has been a focus of investors in recent weeks after activist Dan Loeb wrote to Chapek suggesting he spin the sports channels off to shareholders to better highlight their value. Chapek said he’s received as many as 100 inquiries from parties interested in the business, which to him, underscores its worth.

“If you have a house that you’re gonna put up for sale and you have a hundred buyers, you probably got a pretty cool house,” he said.

Loeb tweeted on Sunday that he has a better understanding of ESPN’s growth plans and was no longer pressing for a divestiture. Chapek said he also has no interest in parting with Hulu, a streaming TV service one-third owned by Comcast. The two companies have an agreement for Disney to buy Comcast’s stake as early as 2024.

Read more: Loeb backs down on call for ESPN spinoff 

Chapek has sketched a vision for Disney that includes more opportunities to connect with consumers, taking advantage of what he described as a “lifestyle brand”. He wants to harness data from theme-park visits, cruise line trips and viewership of online TV and use that to create new opportunities for fans to shop and watch programming tailored specifically for them, including from the company’s Marvel and Lucasfilm studios.

Chapek said the company has been in contact with representatives of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in an effort to maintain the independent status of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the self-regulated municipal entity that provides services to the Walt Disney World resort. Florida legislators voted earlier this year to disband the district. 

“I am inherently an optimistic person and I believe there’s a solution here,” Chapek said.

The executive endured criticism from both ends of the political aisle earlier this year for first not taking a position and then lobbying against a Florida bill that restricts discussion of sexual and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. Chapek said he feared the rhetoric would heat up again as the nation moves toward the mid-term elections in November and the presidential one in 2024, impacting the whole industry.

“A lot of the pressures from both sides, you know, could be accentuated on things that are trying to be used to divide the country as opposed to unify the country,” Chapek said. People from all political factions can find common ground at the company’s theme parks, he said, pointing to the reception fans gave to new projects at a presentation on Sunday morning. “Disney brings people together,” he added.

The D23 event is a three-day extravaganza for all things Disney that filled the Anaheim Convention Centre with fans, many of them in the costumes of Disney characters. 

Disney theme-parks chief Josh D’Amaro outlined plans for new rides and attractions in the presentation on Sunday. They include a King Thanos-themed attraction at the company’s Avengers Campus at its California Adventure park. 

D’Amaro also hinted that new attractions were possibly coming to the company’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom parks in Florida. These include a Mexican village modelled after the one in the 2017 film Coco and a replica of the villa from last year’s Encanto. BM


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  • allan j whitehead says:

    What a wonderful idea by Disney, that child friendly family channel, to start a sports betting business.
    Lets get all our kids to start gambling at an early age, as Disney need more profits !!!

    “I am inherently an optimistic person and I believe there’s a solution here,” Chapek said……
    Frigging numnut….

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