Apr 21, 2023 - Economy

Disney leans into values amid Florida feud with DeSantis

Illustration of two hands grabbing for a Mickey Mouse ears hat surrounded by abstract shapes.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Beef between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shows no sign of abating.

Why it matters: The highly public feud is entering a new chapter, as Disney looks to flex its muscles from inside the Statehouse and double down on social values.

The latest: DeSantis threatened Disney this week with new oversight and obstacles, including a newly-created state board that could look into converting land around Disney World into a rival amusement park, or even a state prison.

  • Disney executives then reportedly called on lobbyists to keep tabs on any Florida bills that could hurt the company and to start “aggressively working against them,” according to a CNBC report.

The intrigue: “The conflict is giving Disney a chance to demonstrate its mettle and rewrite the narrative on its corporate values and ethics,” Beth Kowitt writes in a Bloomberg Opinion piece.

  • The company is hosting an LGBTQ workplace summit in the fall and it also announced a June “Pride Nite” event celebrating the LGBTQ community — a “next-level trolling” move, writes Kowitt.

Flashback: A big tipping point in the feud came when Disney publicly denounced Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill, dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Be smart: “Disney may very well be standing up for its values. But if you want to take a more cynical view, this is also a smart strategy on the company’s part as it realigns itself with progressive causes because it has clearly lost any chance of making nice with the DeSantis crowd,” Kowitt writes.

  • Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

The big picture: Disney is a political and economic force in central Florida, Axios’ Zach Basu notes.

  • A 2019 study found Orlando’s tourism industry generated $75.2 billion in annual economic impact, 463,000 jobs and $5.8 billion in additional state tax revenue.

What to watch: How other companies stand by their stated values. One presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, is already dragging powerful brands into political and cultural debates, and DeSantis also is expected to run.

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