Disney and Ron DeSantis: Still on a rollercoaster ride to nowhere – The Walt Disney Company reported a “softer performance” for Disney World in Orlando, Florida, amidst its continued spat with the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis.
However, Disney CEO clarified to investors and analysts in the company’s third-quarter earnings call that the decrease in revenue for the theme park was due to “softening in several major Florida tourism markets” due to the strong dollar, which has prompted some tourists from out of the country to seek other destinations where they might get more value for their money.
Iger also pointed out that there was a pent-up demand for public recreational parks like Disney World after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted – demand that he said is now tapering off.
The House of Mouse reported revenue of $22.33 billion for the third quarter, a 4% jump from last year’s figure for the same period. The company also reported a 13% growth overall for its parks, experiences and products division. And despite lower visits, Iger stressed that the Orlando-based park is “still performing well above pre-COVID levels.”
Disney vs. Ron DeSantis Is a Clash of the Titans
Disney’s latest earnings results come as it continues to face challenges in Florida, where the company is still fighting a culture war of sorts with Governor Ron DeSantis. From butting heads over COVID-19 restrictions – and views of the pandemic in general – tensions escalated between the two parties after Disney publicly voiced disagreement with a piece of Florida legislation which was signed and approved by the governor last year.
Dubbed by critics of the law as “Don’t Say Gay,” the bill effectively banned any and all discussion on LGBTQ+ topics and issues in schools all over the state from kindergarten to third grade. The law even allowed parents to sue schools and districts that violated the order.
Disney’s initial reaction was tepid, but after several employees from offices all over the U.S. staged a walkout and several LGBTQ+ advocacy groups criticized the lack of a stronger response, executives relented.
The chief executive officer of Disney at the time, Bob Chapek, spoke out against the legislation, telling investors that the company was against the law “at the onset”, but initially preferred to work behind the scenes. Chapek also committed to donate $5 million to organizations working for LGBTQ+ rights.
DeSantis responded by signing a bill that transferred Disney’s self-governing powers in its property to the government – for five decades, Disney governed and administrated its nearly 25,000 acre property and enjoyed tax breaks through an entity called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, whose administrators were picked by the company.
The Florida governor’s new law effectively sought to replace Reedy Creek with the Florida-run Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
Disney sued DeSantis over the move, alleging that the governor spearheaded a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” in an attempt to stifle the company’s First Amendment rights. Citing “changing business conditions,” the company also backpedaled on a plan that would have seen it invest around $1 billion into Florida.
Disney initially had plans to put up a new campus Orlando’s Lake Nona district, which would house as many as 2,000 employees.
No end in sight
As the legal teams for both camps continue to exchange legal briefs in court and trade jabs in the media, some are concerned about the effect of the continued legal battle on Florida’s economy.
A group of former governors, House representatives, and presidential administration officials filed a brief in Disney’s suit against DeSantis, saying that the creation of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was “severely damaging to the political, social, and economic fabric of the State.”
Disney still plans to invest $17 billion in Florida, but in an email sent to employees, the company’s chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Product Josh D’Amaro implied that the investment plan could also be in jeopardy — “I hope we’re able to do so,” D’Amaro wrote, referring to the remaining plans Disney has for the state.
The company has also warned in its suit that the actions of the governor have posed a risk to the “economic future in the region.”
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