MEMO TO: BOB CHAPEK, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY
FR: STEVE LEBLANG, MEDIA CONSULTANT
SUBJECT: THAT FLORIDA THING
I want to preface these opinions by reinforcing they are my own exclusively, nor do I profess to know the inner workings of your company. I certainly don’t know the nuances of the theme park sector which you have run so profitably and still makes up a significant portion of your revenue. I’m a TV, streaming and movie expert, but I don’t know park management. But judging by what I dropped in my last visit alone on mouse ear-shaped waffles, let alone the price of admission, I have little doubt you do really well.
And I also want to say I love Florida, too, and I totally get why you’d want to hang around down there. The weather is usually awesome, the natives are almost invariably gorgeous, and they do have this whole mask thing down a lot more sanely than at least my little sliver of California. Plus, you did just coax about $580 million in tax breaks out of them when you announced your intention to relocate about 2000 jobs there last year, and I don’t blame you one bit for doing that. After all, way back then the 2024 election was three years off–Ron DeSantis was a bit more grounded in reality then.
But now that election is about 2/12 years away and, moreover, he’s running for reelection in a midterm the GOP is poised to me, so he’s chosen to ram through completely tone-deaf legislation that effectively shuts down any discussion of any history or acknowledgment of sexual orientation or gender identity. The actual bill’s closing words specifically states that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur.”
And, as you know, an awful lot of your employees care deeply about this. They staged a walkout on you, for pete’s sake, and have made no bones about their frustration that you haven’t reacted strongly enough to this law. Yes, you’ve issued statements all but admitting your error in judgment, and certainly that’s a step in the right direction morally, But DeSantis et al clearly aren’t moved one iota by it, though, and they appear intent on enforcing this repugnant law as passionately and as publicly as possible in the pursuit of what they think will matter at the polls this fall.
You do have some clout at your disposal, though. You reportedly employ more than 80,000 workers at Disney World, 70,000 directly according to a University of Miami professor of economics. That makes Disney World the largest single site employer in the U.S. The Orlando Business Journal adds that in 2019 the economic impact to the state of Florida from the tourism industry in Orlando was over $73 billion in “business sales impact” over 17 business sectors. With all due respect to your worthy competitors at Universal, it’s safe to say your folks are responsible for an awful lot of it.
And here’s the thing–there is no Disney World without DISNEY content, and a significant number of those who create it have spoken loud and clear. They are proud to work for a company founded by and named for an ANIMATOR–jeez, he produced STEAMBOAT WILLY. They know without their brains and the IP your built from it you’re simply selling Wally World.
So here’s a thought: Tell DeSantis either the law gets repealed, or you’re gonna leave Florida.
Sure, it might depress stock prices a bit more without those tax breaks. But DeSantis and his minions are threatening to repeal that Reedy Creek Improvement Act that effectively allows you to self-govern and build anything you’d like, all because you expressed remorse for donating money to many of the bill’s sponsors. You’re in danger of losing many of the benefits that encouraged Walt to seek out central Florida as a place to build his second theme park anyway. There are plenty of cities in the U.S. that are as small and in need of growth as 1967 Orlando was. All your company has done in the last 51 years is grow Orlando’s population nearly seven fold and made it a Top 20 market, giving your state three of them. You could probably make some sweetheart deals there to build a replacement park somewhere.
Or, better yet, why not buy out an entity like Six Flags and establish a series of smaller regional parks? With Disney branding, you’d likely be able to reinvigorate these areas and also allow visitors the option of staying local where possible. With gas and airfare heading into the stratosphere, that would be a move likely seen favorably by hardcore Disney fans.
Finally, you could always move plenty of the experiences to virtual technology opportunities to make the park experience available to those who are too afraid to leave their couch. Disney VR or AR, with a subscription tier, could be a helluva boost to your DTH business. Disney Plus Plus, perhaps?
Yes, it sounds radical. But we both know the Florida GOP responds to money more than morality, and DeSantis needs voters. The 80,000 employees, the two million residents of Orlando, the millions more around the state that would experience the trickle down effect of the lose of all of those jobs and tourism dollars–think many of them MIGHT reconsider who they want to vote for? If G-d forbid DeSantis were to be a “loser”, how do we think that will sit with the party’s leaders, including the schmuck that lives in Mar-A-Lago? Think that could motivate some discussion?
Ball’s in your court, Mr. Chapek. Your employees love their stock options, to be sure, but most employees just want a boss that supports them. I know that’s the kind of boss I want. And if anything I’ve posited resonates, let me reinforce I’d love to be one of your employees myself.
Just do right by your current employees first. Be more like Walt.
Until next time…