Published: September 12, 2022

Disney CEO Says Sports Betting Is a Reason for Keeping ESPN

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer 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 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 Corp. The two companies have an agreement for Disney to buy Comcast’s stake as early as 2024.

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.

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