Bob Iger warns Florida governor Ron DeSantis his feud with Disney may cost the state up to $17 billion

May 11, 2023, 3:38 PM UTC
Bob Iger attends the Governors Ball
Bob Iger took a thinly veiled shot at DeSantis
Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In a thinly veiled threat, CEO Bob Iger suggested he may rethink plans to invest as much as $17 billion in Florida unless governor Ron DeSantis ceases his repeated political attacks on Disney.

The two sides remain locked in a bitter legal battle over control of the land upon which Iger’s crown jewel sits: Disney World in Orlando.

For the media exec, the stakes are high: 82% of his company’s first fiscal half $6.3 billion operating profit came from its theme parks division. DeSantis meanwhile believes the ongoing feud is nothing less than his key to a shot at the White House.

We have a huge opportunity to continue to invest in Florida. I noted that our plans were to invest 17 billion over the next 10 years, which is what the state should want us to do,” Iger told investors on Wednesday. “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?”

Loosely translated, he is essentially daring DeSantis to sacrifice thousands of jobs and billions in future tax revenue for his state on the altar of his own personal political ambitions. 

According to Iger, their dispute has nothing to do with the special treatment Disney World enjoys thanks to its location within Reedy Creek Improvement District. 

After all, he claims, DeSantis is not publicly attacking the Daytona Speedway or any of the 2,000 other special districts created in the 1960s to incentivize business spending in Florida.

Instead, the Disney boss believes it has everything to do with the company’s demonstrative stance against his “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the governor’s signature legislation that served as a springboard to the national political stage.

“We all know there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called Reedy Creek special district until we spoke out on the legislation,” he told said during an earnings call. “So this is plainly a matter of retaliation.”

Late last year DeSantis briefly emerged as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, thanks to his conservative stance on family values and education that helped him crush his gubernatorial rival in November.

Even before he officially has declared his intention to run, he already secured the prominent support among leading Republican figures like Elon Musk.

A calculated effort not to go on the counterattack against popular rival Donald Trump has however backfired, and he now trails the former President heavily in the polls.   

Competing lawsuits

DeSantis has instead opted to lift his ratings by repeatedly going after Disney, a company deeply unpopular among Trump voters due to their belief it is trying to subtly push identity politics and other leftist values in its family-oriented films.

“This is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation,” Iger seethed.

Claiming Disney should be subject to the very same rules and regulations that apply to every other company and theme park across the state, the Florida governor attempted to wrest control over Reedy Creek by imposing an oversight board stuffed with his political appointees. 

Before the board was set to convene, the Disney CEO outfoxed DeSantis.

In a public meeting of the district effectively held in broad daylight, his lawyers stripped the board of its influence without anyone from the governor’s office so much as in attendance.

Blindsided by the move, DeSantis subsequently pledged to crack down on Disney World and even suggested he might build a prison right next to it. 

Last month Iger told Time he would be glad to sit down with DeSantis to iron things out. But the feud has seemingly escalated out of control with both sides filing competing lawsuits.  

“We certainly never expected to be in the position of having to defend our own business interest in federal court, particularly having such a terrific relationship with the state as we’ve had for more than 50 years,” Iger said.

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