There’s a report in the NY Times this afternoon entitled “Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida” and NBC’s Joe Scarborough trumpets out that DeSantis “cost Florida $1 Billion by picking a fight with the Magic Kingdom”:
DeSantis just cost Florida $1 Billion by picking a fight with the Magic Kingdom to play to a small base of primary voters. He was warned by pro-business Republicans to stop the political posturing against Disney and Bob Iger. So inevitable & unnecessary. https://t.co/BuwXdWRYrV
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) May 18, 2023
Now is this true? Well the New York Times certainly wants you to think that in their opening paragraphs.
Here’s what they write:
In March, Disney called Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida “anti-business” for his scorched-earth attempt to tighten oversight of the company’s theme park resort near Orlando. Last month, when Disney sued the governor and his allies for what it called “a targeted campaign of government retaliation,” the company made clear that $17 billion in planned investment in Walt Disney World was on the line.
“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said on an earnings-related conference call with analysts last week.
On Thursday, Mr. Iger and Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park and consumer products chairman, showed that they were not bluffing, pulling the plug on a nearly $1 billion office complex that was scheduled for construction in Orlando. It would have brought more than 2,000 jobs to the region, with $120,000 as the average salary, according to an estimate from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
But the company’s battle with Mr. DeSantis and his allies in the Florida Legislature figured prominently into Disney’s decision to cancel the Lake Nona project, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. A spokeswoman for Mr. Iger said he was not available for an interview.
Is Iger really the prick tha the Times wants you to believe, that he’s pissed off at DeSantis and is thus killing a $2 billion dollar investment?
I’m not a CEO of a big movie company but my gut reaction when I heard about the story is that there has to be more going on here, and there is! In fact the Times writes about it further down in the story:
The Lake Nona campus, about 20 miles from Disney World near the Orlando International Airport, had been championed by Bob Chapek, who served as Disney’s chief executive from 2020 until he was fired last year. Mr. Iger, who came out of retirement to retake Disney’s reins, was much less enthusiastic about the project — even before the company became mired in its battle with Mr. DeSantis. As soon as he returned to Disney, Mr. Iger began telling lieutenants, for instance, that it made little sense to move Imagineering so far away from Disney’s movie studios. As he is fond of saying, “Creative teams need to be together.”
Disney is also in the midst of cutting $5.5 billion in costs as it seeks to improve profitability, pay down debt and restore its dividend.
As I suspected. CEO Iger didn’t even want to do it because he thought it didn’t make sense. Further, the company is trying to cut billions in costs and killing this project gets them nearly a quarter of the way to their goal.
What it sounds like to me was that Disney’s fight with DeSantis may have been the final nail in the coffin, but the coffin was already built and the project was already in it.
So no, the scuttling of this project had less to do with DeSantis and more to do with the company’s business plans and bottom line, which is generally how businesses work.