Disney Brings Bob Iger Back as CEO Amid the Rise of Sports Betting

  • Iger previously served as Walt Disney Co. CEO from 2005-2020
  • Disney owns 80% of ESPN, America’s top sports provider
  • Bob Chapek, the former CEO, was investigating a sports betting future
  • Iger was previously against sports betting but could switch sides
Bob Iger and Mickey Mouse
Disney brought in its former CEO Bob Iger as it mulls a future for ESPN amid the rise of sports betting. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Back in position

The Walt Disney Company made a surprising move to reinstate former CEO Bob Iger in place of Bob Chapek, bringing its sports betting future into question.

kicked out the back door by the board of directors

Iger, 71, served as Disney CEO from 2005-2020 before being replaced by the now-outgoing Chapek. A Disney press release stated that Chapek willingly stepped down from his role, but the The New York Times reported that he was kicked out the back door by the board of directors.

Chapek had previously indicated that Disney was in talks with several sports betting operators as it looked to solidify a stronger position in the field. Iger previously struck an opposing stance against sports betting, but the climates of both Disney and the gambling market have changed drastically since he was last in position.

Disney mulls sports betting plan

The name “Disney” rings far and wide across the world. Included in the company’s portfolio is 80% ownership of ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports.

A major part of Chapek’s tenure as Disney CEO was supposed to be dedicated to increasing ESPN’s prevalence in the world of sports betting, one of the fastest-growing areas in global entertainment. The network already has a partnership with Caesars and a 6% stake in DraftKings.

Chapek remained adamant that Disney would not sell ESPN

Questions had been raised about the future of ESPN amid the company’s recent internal struggles and the growth in streaming platforms. However, Chapek remained adamant that Disney would not sell ESPN because of its potential upside in sports betting.

“We’ve been looking at this for quite a long time,” Chapek said in September. “And I guess much like the general entertainment inside Disney+, we look at data and research all the time… We’re pretty bullish on that, but it’s really one of many things that we’re entertaining to maximize ESPN’s value.”

Chapek also said in August that ESPN was vetting potential operating partners to give it a stronger stance in the market and take away user strain.

A changing landscape

Iger did not retain as strong of an interest in joining the world of sports betting as Chapek did when he was previously in the position. Times have changed, though, and 36 states now have legal sports betting markets with more presumably on the way.

Sports betting is also now a nearly integral part of sports fandom. According to a recent study, just under half of American sports fans plan to bet on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, which for many will mark their first time betting on soccer. 

“strategic direction for renewed growth” for Disney and ESPN

According to Disney’s press release, Iger will be in position for two years. One of his responsibilities will be to identify and mentor his replacement. He will also need to outline a “strategic direction for renewed growth” for Disney and ESPN.

“I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Iger said in a statement after the announcement.

ESPN has been losing out on some of its usual profit amid the rise of streaming and decline in viewership. The company has also created and heavily marketed ESPN+, its in-house streaming feature that gives customers access to sports events around the world.