Walt Disney Inches Closer to a Very Adult Business

The Mouse House is doing something that once seemed unthinkable (cover Goofy’s eyes).

Walt Disney (DIS) – Get The Walt Disney Company Report started as a family-friendly brand creating wholesome G-rated cartoons. The company has strayed from that and moved into PG and PG-13 content with its core Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars brands, but the company has been very protective of its family-friendly standing.

When Disney+ launched, for example, it did not contain any of the R-rated content the company acquired when it bought Fox’s film and television studios. That has since changed, and movies including “Deadpool” are now on the streaming service, but that only happened after the company added parental controls so mom and dad can control what content their kids have access to.

Disney wants to present itself to the public as a family-friendly brand. That was a core part of Walt Disney’s philosophy when building the early stages of its theme park empire. Alcohol was not served at Disneyland or Magic Kingdom in the early days and Magic Kingdom still only sells it at sit-down restaurants.

The rules, however, have become a bit blurry. You can’t walk around with a beer at Magic Kingdom but people go to Epcot, effectively next door, to “drink the world” in the World Showcase. Disney has had to change with the times and those changes have not always been smooth or easy to understand.

And, while you’re not likely to see an R-rated Pixar movie (Toy Story 5: Amy Goes to College), the company has made it clear it’s moving into a very adult area that once would have been considered off-limits.

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Disney, ESPN Push Their Boundaries

Because of its family-friendly brand, Disney never pushes the envelope. Instead, it waits until societal standards change before leaning into that change. That’s what has happened in the world of sports betting. There was a time — basically until the Supreme Court opened the door for states to legalize sports betting in 2018 — that mainstream sports broadcasts did not address betting in any way.

Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, giving it right to all four major U.S. sports leagues, the NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball, kept its announcers and shows from talking about betting lines or a team beating the spread. Some announcers might give a wink and a nod to why a meaningless late touchdown might matter to some people, but sports betting was a taboo subject.

That changed with the Supreme Court ruling and ESPN launched betting shows and opened up the topic, even on ABC, during NFL games. Disney didn’t blaze any trails here, it simply went where its competitors did after they made it safe.

Talking about betting and actually launching a platform for people to bet are two very different things. Now, however, what once seemed unthinkable has become something that CEO Bob Chapek addressed during his company’s second-quarter earnings call

Disney, ESPN Embrace Sports Betting

Sports betting platforms haven’t quite become ubiquitous, but in states that allow gambling on games outside of casinos, quite a few players have emerged. It now seems odd to offer sports betting content without a tie-in to actually make bets. That’s at least partly why Disney has been exploring its own sports betting platform.

“Well, in terms of sports betting, we have been in conversations for quite a long time now with a number of different platforms to add some utility to sports betting and take away some friction for that for our guests,” Chapek said. “We have found that basically our sports fans that are under 30 absolutely require this type of utility in the overall portfolio of what ESPN offers. So we think it’s important.”

So, while we probably won’t see “Mickey Bets,” or “Goofy’s Sportline,” it’s likely an ESPN-branded sports betting platform will emerge.

“We’re working hard on it and we hope to have something to announce in the future in terms of a partnership there that will allow us to access that revenue stream and also make sure that our guests are being — having their needs met,” he added.

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