The 2019-20 NBA season stood on the brink of collapse before Walt Disney World agreed to host an ostentatious tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Three hotels would be reserved in addition to incalculable resources from staff to equipment to unique dietary requirements.
For example, did you know how much ice Disney and the NBA provided to its players alone? Imagine each player needs 50 pounds of ice each day for recovery then multiply that times 15 players per team across 22 groups. That’s 16,000 pounds of ice PER DAY in addition to those needed for food and drink purposes.
This is just an estimate. Walt Disney World went above and beyond to service the NBA and they did so to their own detriment.
Sneak Peek Inside The @NBA Bubble Laundry Area #wdw #disney #mickeymouse #drake #ballislife #nike #kobe#nba2k20 #nbadraft #durant#luka #lillard #zion #morant #nbafans #follow #jordan #espn #lebron #lakers #insidethenba #raptors #cdc #NBA #sports #basketball pic.twitter.com/iGBY49SeSe— Elzie Bibbs ® (@elziebibbs) July 12, 2020
A PR Problem
The NBA undoubtedly brought millions to Disney, spending unfathomable totals on food and board alone in addition to the cost of renting space at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.
But basketball wasn’t the only event being hosted on property. Major League Soccer held a tournament of its own.
Unlike MLS, the NBA was very public in their concerns toward Florida and though they may not have said so directly, Walt Disney World.
“If the cases keep spiking in Florida, things are going to happen,” one GM told The Athletic on Monday. “I’m really, really concerned for the league big-picture wise in many, many ways.”
The NBA publicly branded its players and staff as above that of local Disney cast members by testing them daily and forcing cast members to even remove themselves from a walk way if a player needed to pass by. This level of hierarchy has a demonstrable affect on public opinion.
If players don’t feel safe around cast members, why should the public?
Another clear-cut example, players were not allowed at any time to visit Walt Disney World. Anyone to do so would be punished for it despite the inevitable connection drawn between ESPN, the Grand Floridian Hotel and Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
This sliding social scale even led to its own labor battle within Walt Disney World. Members of the Actors’ Equity Association refused to appear on stage in performance venues without testing. While president Kate Shindle didn’t directly reference the NBA publicly, NBA’s daily rapid tests created great frustration among local members who longed for the same treatment.
Instead, local cast members were forced to wait hours in line near Orlando’s Convention Center in hopes of securing a test. While the players received their answers within minutes, my wife and I waited 10 days for our results.
What does this have to do with the NBA? Perception.
The NBA placed forward a perception that their players needed to be held above local area cast members and that while it was safe for them to privately use Disney’s facilities they would not dare do so publicly.
True, the bottom line is at play here and the NBA has theirs to protect. Still, popular NBA athletes such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook, Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and many more have been seen publicly in large crowds for social justice causes they believe in.
This is another important cause.
Walt Disney cast members serviced and protected these athletes. Now, 28,000 stand to lose their income and their livelihoods in both Florida and California. Casual and part time employees will be targets as well as any over 55 who will be invited to retire versus being laid off.
Many of my friends were laid off just today. Myself? I have been furloughed for nearly seven months with no idea as to my future. My entertainment venues are all highly interactive and Disney has taken the precaution of holding shows like mine out to protect the general public. Now, that we have entered phase 3, that may change.
But if the numbers do not rise soon, more unfortunate results could become reality.
Because of the public perception put forward by Covid-19 and indirectly the NBA, Disney has seen a shocking collapse in crowds. Based on government regulations, Disney was only allowed 25 percent capacity but even that emerged as a challenge.
Love having a late dining reservation and being able to walk out of a near empty park. ✨✨✨ pic.twitter.com/e9sWo7wBZD— Jenn Loves Disney (@JennLovesDisney) September 24, 2020
Disney’s rich! What’s the problem?
In an estimate taken by Business Inside, Disney is said to be valued at around $130 billion. Walt Disney World on the other hand, makes up just $1.3 billion of that in property value according to the Orange County Appraiser’s Office. The operational costs for all parks sit around $10 billion per year or $3 million per park, per day.
Disney executives claim the company lost nearly $5 billion between March and June in an article penned by the USA Today. In it, the executives describe the closing costing $1 billion alone.
True, Disney is a wealthy company and many may have the impression that Disney’s could allocate resources from alternative branches like Lucasfilm, Pixar or Marvel but it doesn’t work that way. Each stands as its own singular entity. Kevin Feige is CEO of Marvel, Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm and Pete Docter is CCO of Pixar.
None of these powerful moguls are going to siphon their money to the parks. Doing so would be to their own employee’s detriment and put the good of the company at stake. They have their own operations to run and strategic plans in diversifying their resources whether it be through television, film or print.
Bobs Iger and Chapek are on their own in managing the parks, and right now, they’re fighting an uphill battle.
What can the NBA do?
The NBA needn’t open their wallets yet again. The league must have exhausted much of their spending good will when they donated $300 million over the next ten years to the benefit of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Even should they offer resources to cast members, it would be a temporary aid and would fail to serve them long term in any meaningful capacity.
No, cast members need their jobs. To get them, the NBA needs to change perception.
It’s a simple solution. The NBA needs to burst their bubble and visit the parks before the Finals ends. Make a public spectacle of it. Once the NBA has shown the general public that it IS safe to attend parks, they’ll help encourage Americans to redistribute public spending from things like Amazon and home renovation to the tourism industry, in which Orlando depends.
The state of Florida has entered Phase 3. Make no mistake, it is still a desperate and dangerous time in America. The disease hasn’t gone anywhere and careful measures need to be taken.
They are being done so at Walt Disney World. A public horn sounds every ten minutes to remind guests to wear masks at all times. At Epcot, private eating and drinking areas have been provided so that guests don’t remove masks while eating in populated areas. Rides have been restricted to a select number of guests in addition to being regularly cleaned.
This is just a taste of the changes that have been implemented and will continue to be until a vaccine is secured and distributed.
I somehow missed this picture of Brook and Robin Lopez on Splash Mountain in Disney World pic.twitter.com/vPI8fzZp— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) December 13, 2012
Entertainment is part of the magic of Disney.
Due to minimal crowds, Disney has withheld its budget that otherwise would be allocated to live performances. Most of those performers remain on furlough where they have been for the better part of seven months.
During my years of performing at Disney, I have performed for Chris Evans, the Lopez’s, the Kardashians, Jason Garrett, George Lucas and so many more. Seeing NBA athletes back in our parks and at our shows would do unspeakable good.
Moreso than that, if the NBA requests entertainment, thousands left on furlough would be recalled. Most of nearly 500 union performers have been left at home but they are but a small indicator of how many jobs are required to run each venue. Most performance spaces require managers, costumers, musicians, technicians, greeters and many more cast members who serve in capacities to support those venues.
Bring the Los Angeles Lakers to the Festival of the Lion King at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Parade Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo through the legendary Stunt Spectacular at Hollywood Studios featuring Indiana Jones and the brilliant recreation of many scenes from the first film. Bring the Lopez brothers to Jedi: Trials of the Temple where they can stand face to face with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. Have the players bring their families to Finding Nemo, a Broadway-style musical with popular songs written by the composers of Frozen and Frozen 2.
Read this thread. Disney is laying off 28,000 people. Every day, we wonder if we’re next. The @NBA can help by coming to the parks. Blast your amazing time on social media. Show people the parks are safe and still magical. #wecreatehappiness #findingnemothemusical #HeroesAct https://t.co/I6D9jIru7T— Adam Hose (@adamhose) October 1, 2020
The NBA has found itself in a difficult circumstance yet again. In this volatile political environment and amidst undeniable social struggles for justice, the NBA now stands as partial culprit in the losses of tens of thousands of jobs.
At the very least, the NBA is sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned tent while Orlando-area residents cling to the outside fabric.
It isn’t too late. Thousands can be saved as well as their livelihoods and their families. I have been a performer for 15 years. Now, six months after the birth of my daughter, I’m being forced to change careers in a desperate and competitive environment.
The virus is still a very real threat and we can fight against it with proper precaution. But if the NBA doesn’t change perception an entire industry will collapse.
The people like me who serve that industry, may never recover.