Bob Iger Says Disney Will Not Delve into Sports Betting

Disney Company Gambling - Bob Iger Sports Betting

Disney subdivision ESPN embraces sports betting, but don’t expect the parent company to touch gambling anytime soon.

The Walt Disney Company does not appear as if it will soften its stance on gambling anytime soon. While discussing a disappoint 2018 Q4 report with journalists, Disney CEO Bob Iger said he did not see his company getting involved in the business of gambling.”

Last year, Disney poured millions of dollars into an anti-gambling referendum in the State of Florida. Combining with the Seminole Tribe of Florida on the Question 3 ballot initiative, Disney spent $10 million to back a vote which took gambling expansion out of the hands of Florida lawmakers.

Now any expansion must be approved in a statewide vote. Bob Iger’s stance against gambling in Florida appears to encompass any form of gambling.

When asked if Disney would embrace sports betting in the wake of disappointing revenues in the 4th Quarter of 2018, Iger said, “I don’t see The Walt Disney Company, certainly in the near term, getting involved in the business of gambling, in effect, by facilitating gambling in any way.”

Bob Iger on Sports Betting

Even that statement is more nuanced than it might first seem. The caveat “certainly in the near term” suggests that Iger is not 100% set against gambling. Disney’s chief executive only rules out sports betting in the short term. Anything is possible in the future.

Also, the Walt Disney Company has many divisions and one of them has firmly embraced sports betting — ESPN. In the months since the US Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports betting, ESPN has added several sports gambling-related programs, such as “Behind the Bets with Doug Kezirian” and “Bad Beats”.

ESPN Chalk and ESPN Insider

Even before the SCOTUS struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), ESPN launced a gambling-related blog, ESPN Chalk, and featured the subject regularly on ESPN Insider. Whether they like to admit it or not, sports betting is a major facet of US pro sports and ESPN covers that aspect. The same can be said about NCAA football and NCAA basketball.

Bob Iger said as much in his conference call when he stated to reporters, “I do think that there’s plenty of room [for sports betting coverage], and ESPN has done some of this already and they may do more to provide information in coverage of sports, as a for instance, that would be relevant to and of particular interest to gambling and not be shy about it, basically being fairly overt about it.”

He did offer a cut-and-dried remark against gambling: “But getting into the business of gambling, I rather doubt it.”

It continues a long policy against gambling. When Disney bought Marvel Studios in 2013, Bob Iger wanted to disengage it two biggest franchises, Marvel’s Avengers and Spider Man, from the gambling industry. In the previous 15 years, both franchises had licensed multiple slot machines and Disney did not like the connection.

Statistically Relevant Sports Betting Data

The same cannot be said about ESPN — Disney’s sports broadcasting network. ESPN made its name providing results of sporting events and analysis of sports business and culture. In the new age when any state can legalize sportsbooks, it makes sense to provide statistically relevant information to sports bettors. A gambler who wagers on sports wants data that informs their decisions and quickly provides results. If ESPN does not provide it, some provider will.

Since the May 14, 2018 Supreme Court decision, even sports leagues have signed deals to collect sports betting data. MGM Resorts has such a deal with the NBA, while Sportradar has a deal with most major leagues and event circuits.

The next step is sports betting analysis, which most sportsbooks and sports leagues are starting to consider. A wave of franchises have signed deals with casinos which operate sportsbooks.

Disney v. The Gambling Industry

Of course, all of that is a far cry from getting into the bookmaking business. Even more than the NFL, NBA, or MLB, the Disney Company is a family-friendly business that wants to keep its image clean. Even if it controls sports broadcasters which embrace gambling, the parent company is going to maintain its rigid stance against gambling.

The Walt Disney Company is so successful because it is so diverse. For instance, its various movie studios allow it to weather temporary trouble. The Q4 results were down because Bob Iger pulled back production on Star Wars movies, after the fallout from “The Last Jedi” and “Solo”. But besides Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Studios includes Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, and Walt Disney Pictures. While Lucasfilm might disappoint, movies in the Marvel Universe franchise, Pixar films, or traditional Disney animated movies still dominate the box office.