Disney was worried about brand damage that could arise from the media giant's move into sports gambling, Disney CEO Bob Chapek told investors during an earnings call on Wednesday.
But company research showed that betting partnerships would have "no impact" on the family-centric Disney brand, Chapek said, adding that a betting component could strengthen the ESPN brand, of which Disney owns an 80% stake.
"It's driven by the consumer, particularly the younger consumer that will replenish the sports fans over time and their desire to have gambling as part of their sports experience," Chapek said. "As we follow the consumer ... we have to seriously consider getting into gambling in a bigger way."
Sports programs have proved to be a "key differentiator" in Disney's streaming ecosystem, Chapek said. The company's streaming bundle includes Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+, with sports accounting for 90% of "the most watched telecasts last year."
In 2017, only 46% of American respondents in a Seton Hall poll said sports gambling should be legal. Four years later, the same survey found 80% of the 714 American adults polled said they supported the legalization of sports betting.
"ESPN is a perfect platform for this," Chapek said during the earnings call, adding that gambling did not have the reputation it did, "say, 10 or 20 years ago."