Disney Will Do Anything for Money (But it Won’t Do That)

Walt Disney – the person, not the company carrying his name – has an incredibly wholesome idea of family entertainment. Cartoons provided mild amusement for all ages while theme parks mixed low-level thrills, themed versions of classic amusement park rides, a little education, and some big ticket dark rides that were deeply-themed, but as far from edgy as possible.

Disneyland, and later Disney World, were to be places where everyone could have fun and nobody could have an adult beverage. If you wanted to get a little wobbly, you could spin extra hard on the Mad Tea Party, the spinning tea cups ride, or perhaps take a trip on Space Mountain, but everything had to stay all-ages appropriate.

That philosophy hung around for decades after Walt passed away and Walt Disney (DIS) the company remained pretty G-rated. That loosened up a bit in 1982 when Epcot opened. It was hard to ignore that World Showcase was largely built around food and drink with alcohol being a big part of that.    

The purchase of Pixar and Marvel further moved the company into PG-13 on the entertainment side and, now, with parental controls in place, R-rated movies have a place on Disney+. And, while adding “Deadpool” to a streaming service and serving adult beverages in its theme parks, isn’t exactly “Disney Goes Wild,” it does show an evolving company in a very different place.

CEO Bob Chapek, however, has made it clear that there’s one line Disney does not expect to cross.

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty

ESPN Embraces Sports Betting (But Only to a Point)For a long time, ESPN, and any other major sports outlet never really acknowledged that sports betting existed. That’s because it was only legal in Nevada and while it was not a big secret that sports betting was a multi-billion dollar industry, it wasn’t really talked about on television.

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That has, of course, changed and ESPN has embraced sports betting content. It’s now common for announcers to talk about betting lines and mainstream shows including “SportsCenter” regularly feature betting features.

Chapek has admitted that Disney will have to keep evolving and that means embracing an actual betting platform, but he does believe there are limits.

“Putting a link out, for example, which would probably be the most likely application – a link out, not app as an app, but application, a link out to a sports betting site, ESPN-branded, would have no impact on brand equity for Disney but will have a very positive impact on the brand equity for ESPN because our younger audience is demanding that,” the CEO said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Technology Conference, BlogMickey reported.

Disney Wants Its Cake and to Eat it tooChapek’s comments show the odd position that Walt Disney finds itself in where the company has to walk a line that, well, no other company has to follow. As Chapek explains it (albeit not directly), Disney can facilitate sports betting by linking to DraftKings (DKNG) , Caesars Entertainment (CZR) , or another similar service, but can’t actually offer it itself.

That seems like a differentiator that only Chapek understands, but it’s likely also a concern for Disney’s board of directors. So, ESPN will at some point — likely some point soon — will make a deal to link to a sports betting provider which will allow fans to make bets.

In theory, that’s Disney just taking money for placement on ESPN’s platforms, not Disney making money from betting. The company won’t be creating a sportsbook — something Walt Disney would definitely have hated — it will be Disney making it easy for viewers/readers to place bets based on ESPN content. It seems like Walt would probably not like that either, but Chapek has shown that while there’s still a line Disney won’t cross, it’s more of a moving line.

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