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Disney CEO Bob Chapek defends ESPN as key part of portfolio

Kerry Flynn
Sep 12, 2022
Illustration of a man standing resolutely on top of a stack of poker chips.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Disney CEO Bob Chapek over the weekend reiterated his company's plan to keep ESPN and said he hopes to grow the business with sports betting. And Dan Loeb of activist hedge fund Third Point, which has a roughly $1 billion stake in Disney, tweeted his support.

Why it matters: Chapek's statements over the weekend, and Loeb's response, show that the two sides are now aligned when it comes to ESPN. That truce strikes one point of contention off of the list of complaints Loeb recently sent to Disney and its board.

Driving the news: Chapek gave several press interviews at Disney's D23 Expo in Anaheim. When asked about ESPN, he said he had received at least 100 inquiries for it.

  • "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," Chapek told Bloomberg.

Details: In a Twitter thread, Loeb said that he looked forward to ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro "execut[ing] on the growth and innovation plans, generating considerable synergies."

  • As to what those plans are, Chapek was vague. "When the rest of the world knows what our plans are they will be as confident about that proposition as we are," he told the FT.
  • But there was one glimpse at the future. Chapek told Bloomberg that Disney is "working very hard on" developing an ESPN sports-betting app.

The intrigue: Loeb had pointed to the value in sports betting as a reason for Disney to sell ESPN — if it was choosing not to invest in the sector.

  • "ESPN would have greater flexibility to pursue business initiatives that may be more difficult as part of Disney, such as sports betting," Loeb wrote in the letter tied to his new stake.

Meanwhile: Another grievance from Loeb was Disney not yet buying out Comcast's stake in Hulu. Chapek said Disney has talked with Comcast about the matter.

  • "If that were in the cards we would love to do that, but it takes two to tango," Chapek told the FT.
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