The feud began after Disney condemned the Florida Parental Rights in Education bill in March 2022, and it escalated earlier this year when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed a bill into law restructuring the district encompassing the Walt Disney World Resort. Disney undercut the new legislation via an agreement with the outgoing district board, leading the new board and DeSantis to void the agreement.
Since that escalation, Disney has threatened to pull investment in the Sunshine State and filed a lawsuit against the state. Here is a look at how Disney in recent months has reneged on those harsh promises against the state.
Disney filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board in April, accusing them of pursing a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.” In response, the board filed a lawsuit in state court dealing with the legality of the board’s actions to void an agreement Disney entered with the previous board.
The entertainment giant attempted to get the state lawsuit dismissed but was unsuccessful. Shortly after the legal victory for the board, Disney dropped four of its five initial claims in its federal lawsuit. The federal lawsuit now only includes one claim: It alleges a violation of First Amendment free speech rights.
Martin Garcia, CFTOD board chairman, said dropping the other four charges proved the charges were “bogus” and a “publicity stunt.” Garcia made the comments at a board meeting earlier this month.
“It is a noteworthy event when lawyers voluntarily dismiss causes of actions against defendants. In doing so, Disney has all but admitted it knew that the federal charges against this board were bogus and, moreover, that the filing of them constituted a publicity stunt, not to mention a repugnant one that took place at the expense of both the integrity of the legal system and of the economic interests of the taxpayers in this district,” Garcia said at the meeting.
Investment in Florida
Amid the feud with the Sunshine State, Disney announced in May it would be scrapping a planned corporate campus in Lake Nona, Florida, shortly after CEO Bob Iger publicly questioned whether the state of Florida wanted Disney to invest in the state.
The threat to investment in the state and in turn the company’s flagship resort, Walt Disney World, now seems to be unfounded. The company announced it will double its expenditures for its theme parks and cruise line to $60 billion over the next 10 years and touted “over 1,000 acres of land for possible future development to expand theme park space across its existing sites.”
“We’re incredibly mindful of the financial underpinning of the company, the need to continue to grow in terms of bottom line, the need to invest wisely so that we’re increasing the returns on invested capital, and the need to maintain a balance sheet, for a variety of reasons,” Iger said in a statement.
“The company is able to absorb those costs and continue to grow the bottom line and look expansively at how we return value and capital to our shareholders,” he added.
The announcement came on the heels of Disney reiterating its plans to redevelop Dinoland U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort. The company also said it was still exploring expansion plans for Magic Kingdom Park, also at the Florida resort.
When Disney condemned the parental rights in education bill in 2022, it said in a statement, “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.” Since that statement, the company has been publicly mum about the legislation, and it remains in place in the state.
The company did not appear worried about getting involved in culture wars during the episode with the parental rights bill, but Disney appears to have since changed its tune.
A report from an analyst released Wednesday claimed that Iger told investors the company would look to “quiet the noise” and said culture wars were bad for the company’s bottom line. Just as Disney appears eager to move on from the Florida feud, DeSantis has also said he has moved on from it and called on Disney to drop its remaining lawsuit.