Despite having its headquarters located in California, Disney is one of the most influential companies in the Sunshine State.
Ever since it began buying up land in Orlando about 60 years ago, Disney steadily increased its power. Eventually, Disney was more than just one of the state’s largest employers with nearly 80,000 Florida workers. It was also one of the most effective lobbyists for state policy.
However, Disney was always a staunch opponent of gambling in Florida. Disney’s empire of theme parks in Central Florida was always marketed as a family-friendly experience. Disney executives thought gambling could spoil the company’s image.
But that sentiment could be changing. Earlier this week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek told reporters that the company was keeping one of its subsidiaries because of its potential to generate revenue from Florida sports betting.
ESPN could be Disney’s Avenue into sports betting
In 1996, the Walt Disney Company acquired ABC’s parent company, Capital Cities/ABC Inc. ABC bought ESPN in 1984. Therefore, the 24-hour sports news network became a subsidiary of Disney 26 years ago.
According to Bloomberg, Chapek said he was receiving hundreds of offers from other companies wanting to buy ESPN from Disney. But at a Disney fan event in Anaheim, Chapek revealed why any possible deal for the network won’t go through.
“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,” said Chapek.
When asked if an ESPN-branded sports betting app was in the cards, Chapek said, “we’re working very hard on that.”
Chapek clarifies comments
His comments made headlines as it was one of the first indications that Disney could be changing its stance on gambling.
But Chapek walked backed his comments slightly in an interview with CNBC a couple of days ago.
“We’re never going to be a book,” Chapek told the outlet. “That’s never in the cards for the Walt Disney Company.”
Initially, those comments make it appear that Chapek is backpedaling. But it doesn’t change much.
Firstly, he already said that the company’s research indicated that their younger customers want sports betting. And no successful company completely ignores what its customers want.
At the very least, a switch in the company’s gambling stance could allow for a partnership with a major sports betting operator when Florida sports betting inevitably launches over the next few years.
Can you imagine a DraftKings sportsbook in the Magic Kingdom? After all, ESPN already has a partnership with the Boston-based online sportsbook.
Secondly, Chapek could mean that there won’t be a Disney-branded betting app. On the other hand, its subsidiaries are a different story. By allowing subsidiaries to enter the gambling space, Disney still doesn’t have its official brand tied to gambling.
ESPN & Disney were already moving in opposite sports betting directions
Despite being under the same corporate umbrella, ESPN and Disney were already moving in opposite directions regarding sports betting.
In 2019, ESPN launched its first gambling-centric show called “Daily Wager” at its new studio on the Las Vegas Strip.
That same year, then-Disney CEO Bob Iger took a strong stance against sports betting. In 2018, the company was one of the largest donators to help pass Amendment 3, a ballot initiative that would only allow for Florida gambling expansion through a vote.
At the time, Amendment 3 was viewed as an initiative that would help slow the growth of Florida’s gambling industry.
But Iger stepped down from his role as CEO at the end of 2020 and spent a year as the company’s chairman. Since then, the sports betting gold rush only intensified, and ESPN embraced the gambling culture more.