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April 11, 2023

DeSantis VS Disney: The Saga Continues

DeSantis VS Disney: The Saga Continues

Everything you need to know about the Disney VS DeSantis debacle involving the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. We're moving Green Tagged to a standalone feed; if you want to subscribe, visit or...

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Everything you need to know about the Disney VS DeSantis debacle involving the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. We're moving Green Tagged to a standalone feed; if you want to subscribe, visit our website or YouTube.


Philp Hernandez: Hey, Philip here. I just wanted to let you know that we're going to stop airing our weekly segment of Green Tagged here on the Network feed. That's because we're doing some programming changes and we're trying to keep the Network solidly focused on the haunted attraction industry. So, even though Green Tagged is related, and Scott and I are in the industry, we're going to stop airing this show on the Network. However, if you want to keep listening to our Monday Green Tagged Series, you can subscribe to Green Tagged. It's in a standalone feed, you can find anywhere podcasts are found, just search for Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. Also, there is a YouTube channel that's all new, that's just the Green Tagged video versions. I'm going to link all of those in the show notes.

We're going to give you, probably, about till the end of this month until we make the switch over. So, please if you want to keep listening to this Monday series, head over and subscribe to the podcast, or the YouTube version, so that you can stay listening and do Scott and I. Anyway, I just want to let you know that before we roll today's show.


Philp Hernandez: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, where we take the top theme park news from each week and explain why it matters to you. Today, we're going to be talking about DeSantis and Disney, part two, or three, or the ongoing saga. This week's episode of DeSantis and Disney. So, the story broke last week, it was obviously the biggest news from last week, but we wanted to wait until this week because we knew that more details would come out, and they have. So, we're going to start off this episode, I'm going to give a little background, and outline the big steps at play here, so that we don't get anything wrong. Then Scott and I will discuss.

Philp Hernandez: So, to give the context, as we discussed previously when it first broke, Disney sided against Florida's Don't Say Gay bill, and in response, DeSantis signed a separate bill that took control of the special tax zone encompassing Walt Disney World. the New Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which really needs an acronym, it comprised of five DeSantis allies, would serve to take over the municipal services and development for the land, and basically also serve as a moral arbiter for the Disney company. So, that was the previous story that broke. When that news broke, we did a whole podcast, well not a whole podcast, we did a lengthy discussion about that, what Disney was going to do, and how come they were staying silent. That's what broke last week, the reason that Disney was staying silent. Because 19 days before DeSantis signed that new bill to move over the oversight committee, the old board had signed agreements with Disney essentially stripping the new Board of power and handing that power back to Disney. So, it's called a declaration of restrictive covenants, and the measure allows Disney to have the final say on any alterations to the property and requires the board to inform Disney of plans for such alterations without conditions or delays. The declaration will continue until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles the 3rd.

Philp Hernandez: So, what has come to more light now in the past week is that this whole process was done above board and very publicly. So, the declaration was public to anyone that was really paying attention to the process, a detailed note about the restrictive covenant clause was recorded in the February 8th Reedy Creek Agenda, and all the meeting minutes, and all those documents are available online with no public records access needed. You can go online and read about the discussion of this covenant and the voting for that. So, the restrictive covenant is binding, meaning Disney could easily sue the board, now, for legal damages if it tries to overstep its powers and its oversight. So, that was last week.

Philp Hernandez: So, what has happened this week is that now the DeSantis aligned board has agreed to hire four law firms whose fees will be paid by the tax revenues that Disney is generating, and on Monday during the annual shareholder meeting, Bob Iger said the Walt Disney Company plans to invest $17 billion in Walt Disney World over the next 10 years, and create 13,000 new jobs. He was asked, specifically, about this disagreement just this week, and he took a pretty hard swing, he said. “Our point on this is that any action that thwarts those efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business but it sounds anti-Florida, and I’ll just leave it at that.” Of course, not to be outdone, on Thursday, DeSantis had a speech at a college, and he vowed to kind of void the declaration, adding "we're not just going to avoid the development agreement they tried to do. We're going to look at things like taxes on the hotels. We're going to look at things like tolls on the roads. We're going to look at things like developing some of the property that the district owns."

Philp Hernandez: So, that's where we are. We went from really understanding why Disney didn't do anything, because they had already made a move that was public, and people really probably should have caught it, but kind of overlooked it. So, Disney effectively stripped the board of its power before they were able to take control. But then this week, of course, the saga continues. Disney seems like they're taking a much more pointed--I mean, that's pretty pointed, basically saying that DeSantis is anti-Florida when he is the Governor of Florida. So, they're taking a stance and, of course, DeSantis is never going to back down and he is hiring legal teams, and blah, blah, blah, blah. Oh my gosh. So, Scott...

Scott Swenson: Well, first let me clarify, I'm not in Tampa right now. 

Philp Hernandez: Oh, did I say Tampa? Oh, I'm sorry. 

Scott Swenson:So, I just want to clarify that, only because being outside of Tampa, I am not sitting in this boiling cesspool of crap that's going on in Florida. I'm. Sitting in a different boiling location, I'm still in Abu Dhabi. So, I'm not quite as in the thick of things as I normally would be for something that is this Florida-centric. However, none of this surprises me in the least. I think that all too often we have found ourselves in a battle of one versus another, and we're not looking at what is best for the constituents. We're looking about what I can claim as a victory, when it comes to politics, when it comes to business.

Scott Swenson: I can't say that I have always agreed with Iger's statements in the past, usually do, but not always. In this particular case, though, this is clearly anti-business. I'm not even sure I can go so far as to say anti-Florida, but I will say I think so, but I can't get completely on that bandwagon. But is it anti business? Absolutely. Anybody who is supporting DeSantis in this, I want you to take a real hard look at this because, basically, this is setting a precedent so that the government can take anything that a private company owns. I want you to take a real hard look at this because this is a very slippery slope.

Scott Swenson: Now I will also say, and this is discussion, I know Philip, you and I have had this offline, and I've had this discussion with other people, don't go lawyering up against Disney. This kind of, this kind of hospitality law and ownership law, they worked on the Reedy Creek Development concept long, long, long, long, long before the park was even broken ground. So, it's going to be interesting. I mean, let's break this down just a little bit. The fact that DeSantis is using the money that is being raised by the State of Florida, by Disney, to lawyer up against Disney, instead of taking that money and utilizing it to benefit the state of Florida. That's where I agree that it that his actions, right now, short term, are anti-Florida.

Scott Swenson: Whether it's anti-Florida long-term, I don't know, that's out of my area of expertise. But short term, it appears, based on this information, to definitely be anti-Florida. Taking tax revenue that is generated by tourism, which is huge in Florida, and investing it into not one, not two, not three, but four law firms to go against the entity that is generating this tax revenue. Help me explain how that is beneficial to the State of Florida. This is a point where we have to recognize the "moral," and I put that in quotes because I do not believe that his stance is moral, but he does, so we'll put it there. This stance which, again, the amount of revenue generated by the people who are not only members of the LGBTQ-plus community, but also allies of the LGBTQ-plus community, are huge. Are huge, especially when it comes to tourism. So, this could be a second basic stance that could be considered anti-Florida. I'm curious.

Scott Swenson: The interesting thing is, outside of the hospitality industry and the attractions industry, he is also pushing through, and he's using Disney as a top line, big, like let's grab all the headlines kind of thing. What he's doing secretly is certain laws about how children can be taken from their parents if their parents help them identify their gender and educate them on what their gender is, if it is not their assigned birth gender. So, this is happening on many, many, many levels and this is, like I said, a slippery and dangerous slope. I think that he is using Disney to put money in front of morality and to create a smokescreen. It is not just about Disney. That's the most important point that I want to make.

Scott Swenson: As a Floridian, although I'm not there now, that's the most important point I want to make. This is not just about Disney. This is not just about theme parks. This is about the government taking control of private industry, and this is about the government taking away rights to the point where they can remove children from their parent's care, if their parents provide them with education and support regarding gender, either reassignment or gender identification. So, this does not sound like anything that is particularly American to me, or at least traditionally American. So, let's just recognize that what we are seeing on the attraction side is just the surface of what is happening. I would even venture to say there are even more insidious things happening below the surface. So, I think we need to do everything we can to make certain that Disney, as a private industry, does not fall victim to a governmental ideology that is trying to take away not only their control. But, you know, it even says repurposing of land owned by the district.

Scott Swenson: The argument can be made, in fairness, and those of you who disagree with what I've just said, in fairness, the argument can be made that Disney utilized the system to get home rule to create Reedy Creek. They used the governmental system to their business advantage in the past. I do not deny that, but Walt Disney World would not exist if that did not happen. Did it benefit the state of Florida? Absolutely. Did it benefit the city of Orlando?Absolutely. I visited Walt Disney World when it first opened, and Orlando was a town, not a city. It has basically built Orlando, it basically encouraged Universal to come to Orlando. I mean, it just continued to build the tourism industry in Central Florida exponentially. So yeah, it is a scary thing. I think it's something we definitely need to keep an eye on, but I'm glad, and you know me I've not always supported Disney's actions whole-heartedly, But in this particular case, what's happening is wrong. I'm glad to see that Disney is coming out swinging. 

Philp Hernandez: That was a lot.

Scott Swenson: It was a lot, but it's a lot of information.

Philp Hernandez: It's a lot. I think I agree with one of your overall thesis, which is, there's a lot more under. By the time it gets to the tourism piece, that means that there's a lot happening that pushed it out that far. I think to me that is also, the most... I don't know even what I call it, the most dangerous, the most insidious. I think everyone in our industry should be paying attention to this, and just watching how Disney handles it, and I think also paying more attention to what's going on in your local markets as well. Because, yeah, we would not want this to become a precedent or to become... It's so strange, you know, it's just one of those things that is so strange.

Philp Hernandez: The thing that jumped out to me in the escalations is that, originally DeSantis kind of made the argument that it was, basically, he was like, it's kind of unfair. Disney has an unfair advantage, basically, was kind of like his original thing. Now it's very clear in some of the statements he gave and in the speech as well when he was questioned. I mean, he's drawn the parallel directly between Disney not supporting, or coming out against the bill, and then this. He's drawn it directly, and that, to me was big. He hadn't previously, or I hadn't seen it as clear, previously.

Philp Hernandez: I mean, you know, we all kind of suspected, right? But to have it become part of the platform to basically be like, if you are going to get in our way with legislation, then we're going to get in your way with what you're doing. So, I think that's, to me, was surprising. I think a lot of I think the tourism sector needs to rally, basically, and we need to be like, this is not OK. Where we have people telling us private companies what type of entertainment we're allowed to offer is not going to fly, kind of, no matter how you slice it. 

Scott Swenson: And who we're allowed to employ. who we're allowed to provide insurance for, and who we're allowed to recognize as partners. 

Philp Hernandez: Let companies, private companies, you know... I mean companies need to stay private. I mean, we need to be allowed to, I don't know, I mean again the 1st amendment type of things. Companies need to be allowed to do business the way that they want to do business. Again, if a company chooses to have value-based entertainment, which is totally fine, that's fine, but the company shouldn't be dictated to what kind of entertainment they're allowed to offer in their parks by the local government. That's definitely cause for alarm.

Scott Swenson: I guess what perked me up in this whole story was like, the line is being drawn almost directly, that is what they're trying to do. Even in the statement saying that the committee was supposed to kind of be a moral check on the company. You don't need a moral check on a company, that's not... That's what laws are for, you know what I mean?

Speaker That's not free enterprise. To quote what you said earlier, to serve as a moral arbiter. 

Philp Hernandez: Yeah, what? When the board said that in the in their statements, because kind of what happened is the board kind of had their second meeting and basically they were like, "well we can't do anything based on what happened previously." That's the other thing that I'm not sure how much I buy, but it's just another weird piece of the puzzle. Like, are you going to tell me that so much work went into crafting this and then nobody went to the meeting of the group that they were going to take over? I mean it's... Yeah, I don't know.

Philp Hernandez: I'm glad this is Disney, let me just say it that way. If someone has to deal with this in our industry, to kind of put it, I'm glad it's them, because I really can't think of anything that Disney has done wrong here. I even think it was appropriate for Iger to, not really hit back, but to just kind of put it in that way. The other big takeaway I had from this is Disney really doesn't have anything to lose now, because they've secured what they can secure. So, there's really not much stopping them from standing up more about this, about what they want to be able to do. I think that could be very detrimental, because Disney is arguably the best PR, lobbying company in the world. 

Scott Swenson: Well, the other interesting thing is, and I'm going to put this out, I am not stating this as fact because I do not know, but I'm going to float this idea out there and we'll see how it plays out. I would float the idea that this has nothing to do with Florida, this is a way of DeSantis continuing to build promotional sound bites for his run for Presidency.

Philp Hernandez: His brand, yeah.

Scott Swenson: I'm curious to see how it happens, and I think that it could be one of the most disastrous things he has done, because it could explode in his face. But I also can see that there are certain voters out there in a very vocal minority who will say, "yes, he's showing he's strong and he's going against these liberals," and blah, blah, blah. So, what I'm concerned about as a resident of the state of Florida, or permanent resident, not current. But as a permanent resident of the state of Florida, what I'm concerned about is, will Florida be left in the wake as DeSantis moves towards the presidency. Is it, "I don't care what happens to Florida as long as I can use it as a box checked to move towards the Presidency"? I don't. Again, please do not get upset with me. Please do not send letters. I am not saying that is what is happening, but I just want to float that idea out there, because in the way I put together stories, it could be a possibility and it doesn't sound too far-fetched to me. 

Philp Hernandez: I think that that sentiment is exactly what Iger was speaking to on the shareholder meeting. That's how I read that line. I read that line basically like, not just that we are here to stay and we're invested in Florida, like not just to underscore that, but again, storytelling, that's what Disney does, right? Previously it was like, we're all in this together. We're trying to make whatever. Now, it's like, we are the opposite. They're starting to draw the characterizations between DeSantis and Disney, and they're basically saying we're invested in this country and in this state for a long time, at least 10 years, I have all this stuff and we have all this money planned. It's like by saying that they're implying the inverse of DeSantis. Like what is he going to say?

Philp Hernandez: I think that that was something else that a lot of the, not the shareholders, but also the bloggers and a lot of the news people took, was when they put out those numbers. That was really the first time they've kind of given concrete numbers and kind of development plans for the area. That was a big question. You know, even we asked it, we were talking about it previously like, look at the expansion in Asia, UAE, and California. Like how much is Disney really going to expand in Florida? How much can they expand in Florida? When are they going to tap out the market? Like, what's all this? I think that statement said a lot. It said, we're not done in this market. There's still plenty of room to grow. That's enough to build another gate, as well, I mean that's enough investment, that type of thing. So, I think they were directly speaking to that sentiment. 

Scott Swenson: Yeah, the moment this statement was made, everyone I know who works in the industry, and especially those who are Orlando based, immediately, the first words out of their mouth was, "additional gate?" And if so, what would it be? I know there's been a lot of speculation, there's been a couple of articles that have floated out there. Probably the most common rumor... Rumor alert, this is not fact. Rumor alert! Is either the Pirates and Princess concept, which they've been testing as a special event for years. Or the Villains Park, which has been oh so very popular as far as a conspiracy theory. So, who knows. But, as you say, Philip, the bottom line is he came out and he said, we are invested in Florida, not sure whether the current governor is. 

Philp Hernandez: Yeah, and that's a hard swing, and I think it's just going to get harder. I would not want to go up against the storytelling power of Disney. Like, I would not. 

Scott Swenson: When you say storytelling, it's funny because this could, and I don't mean to undermine the importance of it, but this particular story could play out very much like a Disney film where you've got this insidious villain who is trapped by their own vanity, desire for power, or whatever. Like we'll see. 

Philp Hernandez: It's interesting. It is the Disney story, and I just feel like that is going to work against the people, against DeSantis, in so many ways because Disney has a lot of fans and especially in that area. They're good at telling that story, that hero/villain story, and if they can shift things around, yeah. Anyway, I just wanted to wrap up this section, but I want to know, Scott, what do you think our listeners should do with this information? What do we do? 

Scott Swenson: Well, I think it's important to recognize that if this kind of thing can happen in Florida with Disney, which is supposedly untouchable, it can happen anywhere. So, be involved, whether you are a major theme park, or whether you are in a Family Entertainment Center, whether you are a zoo. Be involved in your local politics, be aware of what's happening in your local politics, and don't just look at the things that you think are going to affect you directly, look at the things that are lying beneath it. I think the most important thing, my most important takeaway in this story. and I'm speaking very selfishly as a Floridian, my basic takeaway is don't get caught up in the bluster that's covering the deeper, and perhaps more insidious, decisions that are being made underneath this. That's why I say, be involved, get involved. Whether it is getting involved with local government, whether it's getting involved with Chambers of Commerce, be aware of the decisions that are being made because, whether you think they're going to affect you directly or not... I mean, who would have thought that the Don't Say Gay bill would have affected theme parks? I mean, who? But it's clearly making a big deal, so be involved. Be aware. 

Philp Hernandez: OK. Well, we'll move on to the also Disney story, but different on the staffing end. Meanwhile, while all this is also happening. Disney has eliminated its Metaverse department as part of a broader restructuring that is expected to reduce headcount by around 7,000 across the company over the next two months. They had previously announced that 7,000 person layoff, which we did cover, but the new piece about this is they've eliminated entirely the Metaverse section. But, of course, those layoffs are not touching the parks. As we have talked about a lot on the show, Disney and the unions have agreed on a new contract. This is courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel, the proposal will raise a disease minimum wage for full-time workers from $15.00 an hour to $17.00 immediately. The rate will increase to $18 in December, and $20.50 by the contracts end in 2026. It also introduces 8 weeks of paid child bonding leave. The deal makes Disney the highest-paying theme park employer in Orlando. Universal Orlando raised its starting wages to $17 an hour earlier in February, when they were still negotiating this contract. Disney World's frontline staff say this pay increase will make a big difference in their lives. In recent years, some workers have reported sleeping in their cars, living in motels, or sharing small apartments with multiple roommates to make ends meet. So, there's also a lot there.

Philp Hernandez: I think for me, the big takeaway is, God, we just talked about it with the IAAPA and the North America summit, the Metaverse, all that kind of died quickly. It may not be completely dead, but it's more like the arrival of a much greater AI, and much more access to AI is changing what that whole thing is going to be. It's pretty clear that it's more going to be like the Internet, as in things are going to operate in the background as part of the infrastructure that we use. So, we are yet back to content is king, and I think that is clear Iger said as much. He said about restructuring to put the artist more accountable for their work, and putting them closer to the stories and distribution, and get rid of Metaverse. Why? Because it doesn't matter. Because if they make incredible content, whoever owns the "Metaverse" or whatever that ends up being, will come to them any way to lease their characters, just like they have always done. So, I think that is a thing. Then the other big thing is the staffing arms race, and I'm not quite sure right now how we're going to fit one to potentially two new theme parks in Orlando, with the staffing being this bad. 

Scott Swenson: Yeah, I think that that is very accurate. For me, go back and listen to old episodes, I was never a fan. Just saying. I was never a fan and I thought it was just because I was old. I wasn't a fan, but for the wrong reasons, and I admit that. But I always said theme parks need to continue to focus on creating live, in-person experiences, not things that happen out here, but things that happen right here, right now. That's been the purpose of theme parks from the get-go. That's why Disneyland was created, to give people an opportunity to take things from the movies into the real world. It also ties directly in line with our whole big discussion that we had not too long ago about authentic reality.

Scott Swenson: I think that the idea of the Metaverse, it's great in theory, it's really great in theory, and honestly, its time may come, there may come a time when we reach that point, but we ain't there yet. I think that people who are living a whole generation, or multiple generations, that are living on their phones and living in their digital world, what are they going to do when they want to get away? When they want to have a vacation? They're going to go to something real, and use it to create content for their digital world. So, you need that touchpoint in reality. For Disney to eliminate the Metaverse, their Metaverse department, makes total sense. Because as Philip just pointed out. If you create great content, if you create wonderful, impactful, in-person experiences, no matter what the technology is then the metaverse will follow. I mean, the rest of the Internet and the other content creators, they will all come back to that touch point. But in order for content to be created that is viable, you know, how many of us, when we get locked into that TikTok loop, or the social media loop where we get stuck watching videos? None of them, or very small percentage of them are CGI. They're all capturing the cute dog. They're all capturing the kids who are dancing, they're all real things, they're all live things. I think it only makes sense to continue in that regard, making it easy for people to translate it into digital. But everybody has the ability to do that now, everyone can make digital content. Not everybody can make real, in-person, impactful experiences.

Scott Swenson: Sometimes it's fun to be right. It happens so rarely. I don't know whether I'm right or not, but at least I'm loud, and I have this great opportunity to have these. discussions with Philip, and to share our thoughts with you. But unfortunately, we can only do it about 30 minutes at a time, and those 30 minutes are up. So, until next time, on behalf of Philip Hernandez and myself, Scott Swenson, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30 and we will see you next week. 


Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.