In February 2020, popular Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger stepped down from his role as CEO and became the Executive Chairman of The Walt Disney Company. The Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products — Bob Chapek — took over the role of CEO and his tenure has been…rocky to say the least. Just one month after he became CEO, the COVID-19 pandemic forced all Disney theme parks, including Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort, to shut down. All film and television production shut down as well, so Disney furloughed and laid-off thousands of Cast Members.
While dealing with a worldwide pandemic was the most difficult way to start as CEO that one could imagine, many feel Chapek has not done much since then to endear himself to Disney’s loyal fan base. Over the past couple of years, things seemed to have drastically changed in the eyes of Disney fans — the Parks are getting outrageously expensive, while the quality seems to be declining. A recent poll also shows that an overwhelming number of Guests feel that Disney “has lost its magic”.
Chapek has caught most of the fan’s ire for what is happening at Disney. In Disney circles, Chapek is seen as someone who is more focused on making money than making magic for Guests. This has led to petitions calling for Chapek to either resign or be fired.
Chapek recently sat down with The Hollywood Reporter, and he was asked about being seen as “a guy who cuts costs and raises prices” and getting a lot of flack from those who call themselves “Disney superfans”. Chapek didn’t shy away from the question and said:
We love all our fans equally. We love the superfans, obviously. But we also like the fans that don’t have the same expression of their fandom. We want to make sure that our superfans who love to come with annual passes and use [the parks] as their personal playground — we love that. We celebrate that. But at the same time, we’ve got to make sure that there’s room in the park for the family from Denver that comes once every five years. We didn’t have a reservation system and we didn’t control the number of annual passes we distributed and frankly, the annual pass as a value was so great that people were literally coming all the time and the accessibility of the park was unlimited to them, and that family from Denver would get to the park and not be let in. That doesn’t seem like a real balanced proposition. I guess it’s possible that the superfans look at that as a disadvantaging of the way they consume the park, but we’ve got to make sure that not only are we heeding the needs of our superfans, but we’re heeding the needs of everyone who travels from across the country one time every five years. We have a real high-class problem: We have much more demand than there is supply. What we will not bend on is giving somebody a less than stellar experience in the parks because we jammed too many people in there. If we’re going to have that foundational rule, you have to start balancing who you let in. … Our ticket prices and constraints we put on how often people can come and when they come is a direct reflection of demand. When is it too much? Demand will tell us when it’s too much.
His answer may not be what fans of the theme parks want to hear. Chapek is basically saying that prices will drop when they notice a drop in theme park attendance — which will most likely be a sign that things are too expensive — but many can tell you that the Parks seem just as crowded as they were before the pandemic. Disney is also reporting record profits, but that has to be balanced out with the high prices that they are charging.
Even though Chapek might not be seen as very popular with the Disney fan base, he appears to be popular with Disney’s Board of Directors, which extended Chapek’s contract by 3 years this past June.