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Friday, July 31, 2020

Disney’s Pre-Pandemic Strategy Reflected in Down Attendance in 2019

by Ray Keating



July 31, 2020


Earlier this month, the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) released its annual report on global attractions attendance for 2019. While Disney obviously remained the theme parks powerhouse regarding attendance – with its various parks around the world pulling in an estimated 155.99 million guests – its overall attendance in 2019 actually declined slightly (falling by 0.8 percent) versus 2018.

This small decline in 2019 attendance actually was part of Disney’s strategy, as opposed to the 2020 phenomenon of a pandemic closing parks, and crushing attendance, revenues and profits. As noted in the TEA report, “Disney’s domestic park attendance numbers were flat overall for 2019 compared to the previous year which could be attributed to the operator emphasizing its yield strategy by prioritizing the quality of guest experience and per caps. This operating model has emerged over the last decade and will likely serve operators well moving forward, with respect to capacity limitations in parks and the continued need to stay competitive.” Or, as stated in an Associated Press story, “The flat attendance is likely due to an effort by Disney to limit entry, while charging higher prices, so that visitors have a more enjoyable experience…”


Here's a rundown in Disney’s 2019 attendance figures.


• Among amusement/theme parks in North America, Disney parks filled the top five spots, as well as number eight: 


1) Magic Kingdom attendance was up by 0.5 percent in 2019, registering 20,963,000 compared to 20,859,000 in 2018. 


2) Disneyland (California) attendance saw no growth in 2019, registering 18,666,000 in both 2019 and 2018. 


3) Animal Kingdom attendance was up by 1.0 percent in 2019, registering 13,888,000 compared to 13,750,000 in 2018. 


4) Epcot attendance was unchanged in 2019, registering 12,444,000 in both 2019 and 2018.


5) Hollywood Studios attendance was up by 2.0 percent in 2019, registering 11,483,000 compared to 11,258,000 in 2018. 


8) Disney California Adventure attendance was unchanged in 2019, registering 9,861,000 in both 2019 and 2018. 


• Disney World’s two water parks ranked one and two in terms of attendance among water parks in North America: 


1) Typhoon Lagoon attendance fell by 1.0 percent in 2019, registering 2,248,000 compared to 2,271,000 in 2018.


2) Blizzard Beach attendance also declined by 1.0 percent in 2019, coming in at 1,983,000 versus 2,003,000 in 2018.


• In the Asia-Pacific region, Disney claimed four of the top ten parks in terms of attendance:


1) Tokyo Disneyland attendance saw no effective growth in 2019, registering 17,910,000 compared to 17,907,000 in 2018.


2) Tokyo DisneySea attendance also was effectively flat in 2019, coming in at 14,650,000 versus 14,651,000 in 2018.


5) Shanghai Disneyland attendance was down by 5.0 percent in 2019, coming in at 11,210,000 versus 11,800,000 in 2018.


10) Hong Kong Disneyland attendance dropped by 15.0 percent in 2019, registering 5,695,000 versus 6,700,000 in 2018, thanks to protests against the infringement of the communist government in Beijing on the governance of Hong Kong.


• In Europe, Disney claimed two of the top four spots in terms of attendance:


1) Disneyland Paris saw attendance decline by 1.0 percent in 2019, coming in at 9,745,000 versus 9,843,000 in 2018.


4) Walt Disney Studios Paris also saw an attendance decline of 1.0 percent in 2019, registering 5,245,000 compared to 5,298,000 in 2018.


The Disney strategy of enhancing profitability by increasing prices, investing in park upgrades, and improving the guest experience wasn’t a secret, and the 2019 attendance numbers line up with this strategy. 


The question now is, of course, what happens to such a strategy during and after a global pandemic? Barring a complete snap back in terms of attendance once vaccines and therapeutics reach the market, it would seem that, at least for a short period of time, Disney will need to offer more price breaks and slow some capital investments until attendance, revenue and profits return to where the company and its shareholders wish to see them.




Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.


Also, get the paperback or Kindle edition of Ray Keating’s new book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York.


Thursday, July 30, 2020

PRESS CLUB C Podcast with Ray Keating – Episode #23: Feeling a Sense of Place

After a recent visit to the campus of the University of Notre Dame, Ray started reflecting on why certain places hold meaning for individuals. So, Ray rambles on in this episode about a sense of place, why we might feel it (perhaps, at first glance, inexplicably), and his top 10 spots that give him a sense of place - and yes, Walt Disney World is among those 10! Tune in here!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Walt Disney, Little Red Riding Hood, Bankruptcy and Beyond!

by Chris Lucas
Guest Column
July 29, 2020

Walt Disney’s very first full length (more than a minute long) cartoon - Laugh-O-Grams' Little Red Riding Hood - was released on this day in 1922.

Source: Top Disney

Walt was only 20 years old, but he taught himself the basics of animation by reading library books and established a film studio - Laugh-O-Grams - in Kansas City. His first big commission was for the Newman Theatre. 

Little Red Riding Hood took six months to make. Walt wrote, produced and directed it, while Rudolph Ising did most of the animation with him.

In all, seven full length cartoon fairy tales were made by Laugh-O-Grams before the company went bankrupt in 1923.

Source: Top Disney

Walt didn’t let the failure and doubters deter him, though. He used that “kick in the teeth,” as he put it, to spur him on to bigger and better things. He got on a train to California and never looked back.


On the PRESS CLUB C Podcast, enjoy Ray’s recent discussion with Chris Lucas about his career as an actor, author and Disney expert. Tune in right here!

Streaming Review: “12 Monkeys” – Engrossing Time-Travel Sci-Fi with Stellar Character Development

by Ray Keating
July 29, 2020

Much can be appreciated about Disney taking full control of Hulu. First, there’s the affordable streaming combo deal of Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. Second, Hulu allows Disney to offer some intriguing storytelling that otherwise wouldn’t fit the purely wholesome Disney brand on Disney+. And finally, as publisher and writer for DisneyBizJournal.com, there’s not only more to write about from a business perspective regarding Hulu, but as a reviewer as well.

That last point brings me to my recent streaming of 12 Monkeys, a series that originally aired for four seasons on SyFy from 2015 to 2018. When on SyFy, the series had caught my attention, but I just never got around to watching it. And now with it streaming on Hulu and there being a pandemic, I finally settled in to watch. And I’m exceedingly pleased that I did. This is a rich, entertaining series in a variety of ways.

The basic idea is that a deadly plague hits (yeah, I know) and winds up wiping out more than 96 percent of the human race. However, a man named Cole, from a post-apocalyptic future, takes part in a dangerous attempt at time travel in the hopes of stopping the plague before it starts, and thereby saving 7 billion people.

If you enjoy time travel, including an assortment of time twisting and paradoxical moments, then 12 Monkeys is for you. After having watched the series, I feel like I need to review how an assortment of time bending moments fit into the overarching story. (I’m sure someone has provided such a time map, and I need only track it down online.) One of the nice touches in 12 Monkeys is the grittiness of the time machine and time travel itself, as well as the moral and ethical conundrums that emerge, and how different characters react to such scenarios.

But no matter the genre – from time-traveling sci-fi to Westerns – key requirements of good storytelling remain rather consistent, including an engrossing tale and interesting characters that the audience cares about one way or another. 

Another crucial story ingredient too often missing in episodic television is substantive character development. While long-form television storytelling featuring notable character development existed before, it was something of an exception. Cable channels and then streaming services allowed it to truly flourish.

12 Monkeys manages to pull in each of these story essentials. The characters are interesting and earn viewers’ attention. They include James Cole (Aaron Stanford), Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa), Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), Jose Ramse (Kirk Acevedo), and Deacon (Todd Stashwick), along with others. 

To say that each of these characters goes on a journey of development over four seasons would be to understate matters. Each experiences dramatic ups and downs along the way, and winds up being, or being revealed as, a very different person at the end of the story than who we met at the outset. Indeed, the fact that these engrossing transformations or revelations are achieved for so many characters in 12 Monkeys is a tribute to the show’s creators, writers, directors and actors.

Finally, how many times have you been swept up in a long-form series only to have it cancelled on a cliffhanger (see another SyFy show Dark Matter) or you wind up with an inexplicably disappointing, underwhelming or perplexing ending (see Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle)? No worries about that with 12 Monkeys. I will in no way reveal anything about the ending, except that it ranked as one of the best endings to a series I’ve seen.

So, go watch 12 Monkeys on Hulu, and enjoy – despite it being about a pandemic.


Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Also, get the paperback or Kindle edition of Ray Keating’s new book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Streaming Review: “One Day at Disney” Shorts Are Too Short

by Ray Keating
July 28, 2020

So, what did you do this past Sunday night? Well, I watched 34 episodes of the Disney+ series One Day at Disney. I hadn’t planned on doing so, but once I started watching these 6-to-9-minute episodes, the series just sucked me in, resulting in a full-blown binge session.

As an economist and business author, I’m always fascinated by what people do for a living, and how they do it. In particular, there’s something encouraging and refreshing about individuals who treat their work as more than just a job, but as a vocation. Among many movie quotes I love, one of my more recent favorites is what Emma Stone’s character, Mia, says in La La Land: “People love what other people are passionate about.”

That’s what this series is about, with each episode focused on an individual who works somewhere in the vast Disney entertainment empire, and clearly treats that job as a vocation, a passion.

The shorts build on or leap off from an initial Disney+ One Day at Disney documentary. While the episodes featuring bigger names – such as Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, ESPN’s Sage Steele, and ABC News anchor David Muir – certainly work, the series truly excels in most of the other episodes that focus on individuals who work in a wide array of endeavors that are behind the scenes, if you will, but vital to the company’s various endeavors.

There’s Thom Self, who is a scuba diver that makes sure things underwater are as they should be at Disneyland. Or, how about the moving family story of character designer Jose Zelaya and his mom? Kristina Dewberry is an Imagineering Construction manager and a huge Star Wars fan. And Vince Caro clearly enjoys being Pixar’s Senior Recording & Mixing Engineer, while Stephanie Carroll is a ranch hand at the Tri Circle D Ranch where she cares for Cinderella’s ponies and horses. 

Seeing people appreciating their work occurs throughout the series, and it makes for inspiring and entertaining streaming. 

It also can serve as a lesson for each of us. Just because a person works at Disney – the dream job for many out there, no doubt – doesn’t mean that they don’t have bad days just like the rest of us. And like others, they also succumb to routine. But one of the standout aspects of Disney is its customer service and focus. Each person is trained to think about how their work impacts guests and the public. That comes through in these One Day at Disney episodes. And that’s something each of us can learn from and take back to our own vocations. Whatever work we happen to be doing, somehow it is in service of others, and that matters. 

In the end, these One Day at Disney shorts on Disney+ turn out to be just too darn short.


Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of thePastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Also, get the paperback or Kindle edition of Ray Keating’s new book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Happy Birthday to Bugs Bunny ... from Walt Disney?

by Chris Lucas
Guest Column
July 27, 2020

Happy 80th birthday to Mickey Mouse’s corporate “rival” Bugs Bunny - who officially made his on-screen debut with that name in the Looney Tunes short “A Wild Hare,” on this day in 1940.

Courtesy of Top Disney

Bugs partly evolved from a popular Disney character of the 1930s, Max Hare. 

Max was a wisecracking, sarcastic rabbit who was featured in a series of Disney’s Silly Symphony cartoons. One of the artists who worked on Max - Charlie Thorson, who’d also created the look of Disney’s Snow White - was asked to develop a similar looking bunny for Warner Brothers. 

He christened him “Bugs.”

The folks at “Termite Terrace” (which is what the Warner Brothers animation building was dubbed early on) had an astounding output that revolutionized cartoon comedy. 

Some of the creative staff members at WB, including directors and animators such as Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng (an old friend and co-worker of Walt’s from the Kansas City studio), Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Robert Clampett, Arthur Davis and Frank Tashlin had Disney connections, and are considered major figures in the art and history of traditional animation.

The humor in those Looney Tunes cartoons was off the wall, zanier than anything Disney was putting out. With constant repeats of them airing on television from the 1950s to the 1990s, they influenced generations of comedians and comedy writers.

Courtesy of Top Disney

The legendary Mel Blanc - voice of Bugs Bunny and all of the other classic WB characters - actually played a major role in a Disney film the same year Bugs debuted. He was Gideon the Cat from Pinocchio.

Blanc recorded hours of dialogue for Disney. Unfortunately, Walt himself thought that Gideon - like Dopey - would be funnier if he stayed silent. The only remnant of Blanc's work in the film are three hiccups. 

Walt made it up to Blanc years later by hiring him as the voice of kooky Uncle Orville for the bath tub scene in the Carousel of Progress. To this day, you can still hear Blanc's distinctive voice in the show as it revolves all day long at Walt Disney World.

Though the rivalry between Disney and WB is a mostly friendly one, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny have only ever made one big screen appearance together, in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Courtesy of Top Disney

Happy Birthday, Bugs! Thanks for the laughs!


On the PRESS CLUB C Podcast, enjoy Ray’s recent discussion with Chris Lucas about his career as an actor, author and Disney expert. Tune in right here!

Changes Continue To Disney World Hotel Reopening Dates

by Beth Keating
July 27, 2020

As COVID-19 rates continue to fluctuate across the country, so do guests’ travel plans, and Disney is doing their best to keep up with a very fluid situation. To compensate for changes to guests’ arrivals (or non-arrivals), Disney World has released a revised set of opening dates for several of their Resort properties. 

A select number of the Disney Vacation Club properties began operating in June ahead of the park reopenings, and the revised Resort changes do not affect the Disney Vacation Club portions of these Resorts. 

The following Resorts are impacted by the date changes:

  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (Scheduled to open Aug. 12, but will now reopen October 4)

  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (Scheduled to open Aug. 12, but will now reopen November 1)

  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort (scheduled to open Oct. 1, but opening date has been removed)

  • Disney’s BoardWalk Resort (scheduled to open Oct. 1, but opening date has been removed)

According to Disney, “While reopening dates were previously shared for Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, these Disney Resort hotels will remain closed until further notice, as the reopening timeline continues to be reevaluated.”

No changes have been made to the previously announced reopening dates at these Resorts: 

  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (July 29)

  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (August 24)

  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (September 21)

  • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (October 14)

There is no word yet on the reopening dates for Disney’s All-Stars Resorts, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter and Riverside, or Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

Disney’s website offers, “Future reopening dates are subject to change and Guests’ reservations could still be modified to other Disney Resort hotels if needed. Given the current situation, there are some Disney Resort hotels and other areas that are not, as of this time, being scheduled for reopening yet. We will continue to evaluate the situation and reopen more locations when the environment is right to do so. While these plans may evolve, we will be monitoring the constantly changing health environment and its impact on the state of Florida as we find the right time to welcome back even more of our Guests.”

If you are one of the guests whose trip has been affected by these  reservation changes, expect a contact from Disney. Options are available to either modify your reservation to another Disney Resort hotel at no additional cost or cancel your reservation without any Disney-imposed fees.


Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

“Tangled: The Musical” Offers More Broadway Style Viewing for Fans

by Beth Keating
July 26, 2020

Now that you’ve watched Hamilton three or four or seven times on Disney+, you are probably looking for some new Disney productions to fill your pandemic days.  Disney Magic Moments is coming to the rescue.  Offered up this week on the Disney Parks Blog, the previously recorded full-length version of Tangled: The Musical, features the original cast from the show’s opening in the Walt Disney Theatre onboard the Disney Magic.

A musical adaptation of the 2010 Tangled movie, this Broadway-style Disney Cruise Line exclusive opened in 2015, casting Elisha Ainsley as Rapunzel, Nick Pankuch as Flynn Rider, Katie Whetsell as Mother Gothel, and puppeteer/actor David Colston Corris as Maximus the horse. Tangled is based on the Grimm’s fairy tale of the lost princess Rapunzel.

The live stage extravaganza was created by a Grammy, Tony, Emmy and Academy Award winning team. Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken and Grammy Award-winning lyricist Glenn Slater were the duo who brought you the soundtrack behind the animated film with all the Tangled songs that you know and love, and they added three new original songs to the Cruise Line production, including the opening number, “Flower of Gold.” 

Adding to the collaboration is master puppet designer Michael Curry, who brings you the life-sized, mischievous Maximus the horse. Curry has previously won awards for his work with Olympic ceremonies and on Broadway, and has designed for such diverse entertainers as Cirque du Soleil, The Metropolitan Opera, Michael Jackson, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga. 

Tony Award winner Paloma Young is the designer responsible for Tangled: The Musical’s vibrant eye-catching costumes. You may know her work from Peter and the Starcatcher

Bradley Kaye, scenic design, has been involved in a number of Disney Cruise Line productions, including Halloween on the High Seas and Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular, as well as in Disney Parks’ shows, parades, and locales, such as Star Wars Launch Bay. He has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.

The energetic show takes place on a series of moving sets, an amazing feat when you recall that the show’s home is on a cruise ship with limited space. The opening number, with its appearing and disappearing elevator floor, is an ingenious way of giving all the backstory and exposition needed to jump right into Rapunzel’s tale, in a purely musical way, of course.  The floating lanterns in the night sky later in the production are an especially fun touch that surely was even more enchanting in person in the theater. 

To make your evening of viewing more complete, Disney Parks Blog also offers a recipe for making your very own purple and yellow Tangled popcorn to eat while you are watching the show.  It’s not quite the same as enjoying one of the Tangled “Lost Princess” Dole Whip adjacent cones from Storybook Treats in the Magic Kingdom, or last summer’s limited edition Tangled ├ęclair with its sugared flowers and miniature chocolate frying pan from Pinocchio Village Haus, but you can get the popcorn recipe here.

If you are hooked on Disney Cruise Line’s Broadway-esque productions, you might also like to catch a glimpse of the Beauty and the Beast production from aboard the Disney Dream. Back in April, at the beginning of the pandemic, Disney Magic Moments posted a 20-minute long, narrated and edited video of highlighted scenes from the Disney Cruise Line version of the Beauty and the Beast Musical


Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Walt Disney and Our National Pastime

by Ray Keating
Feature Story
July 25, 2020

Baseball is finally back. And as previously baseball-starved fans enjoy watching games this first weekend of the season, it’s also an ideal time to reflect upon Walt Disney, his love of the game, and how he and his company have been involved in our national pastime over the years.

It’s not surprising that Walt enjoyed baseball, since he also loved this country, and there’s perhaps nothing more American than baseball. As explained in the following D23 video, Walt was a big fan, and sometimes joined his employees in games at Disney’s Hyperion Studios. An athletic field, available for baseball, also was set up when Disney moved to its new studio in Burbank in 1940.

Walt once said, “Baseball is a great teacher of an important secret of living: the giving and taking in the group, the development of qualities and behavior that will stand us in good stead through life pursuits both personal and professional.”

But there has been even more to the Disney-baseball relationship. 

Before the Dodgers and Giants arrived in California in 1958, the Pacific Coast League (PCL) from 1903 to 1957 was about as close to the big leagues as the Golden State could get. The PCL served up high-quality baseball. In fact, there were efforts to make it a third major league, though that ultimately failed.

One of the PCL teams was the Hollywood Stars. From 1926 to 1935, the Stars played at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, home to the PCL’s Los Angeles Angels. When unable to afford the Wrigley Field rent charged by the Angels’ owner, the Stars went south to become the original San Diego Padres. But in 1938, the Mission Reds in San Francisco moved and became the new Hollywood Stars. 

Walt not only was a fan and season ticket holder of the Stars, but he contributed funds to help build the team a new ballpark. When the team owners, including Robert H. Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby restaurants, sought funds to build a stadium, they formed the Hollywood Baseball Association, and sold ownership shares to prominent local leaders and celebrities. Disney became a part owner in the ballclub, along with folks like Cecil B. DeMille, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, George Burns, Jack Benny, Barbara Stanwyck, and Harry Warner. Gilmore Field opened on May 2, 1939, and the Hollywood Stars were billed as “the Hollywood Stars baseball team, owned by the Hollywood stars.”

Years later, the arrival of the Dodgers from Brooklyn actually got Walt involved in Major League Baseball. As reported by WalterOMalley.com, Disneyland influenced Dodger Stadium in a few ways, including where it was located:

The influence of Disneyland for its layout, parking facilities, trams and high level of customer service did not go unnoticed by O’Malley, who had his executives visit the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim and take notes. O’Malley had corresponded with Walt Disney and asked if he might have some suggestions as he built his new ballpark. Interestingly, Disney had rejected the idea of using the same unattractive Chavez Ravine land for a potential Disneyland site (quite possibly because of the massive amounts of earth that would have to be moved).

The Los Angeles Angels started play in the American League in 1961. Walt Disney, friend of team owner Gene Autry, served on the team’s board of directors from 1960 until his death in 1966. Walt also played a part in the team’s moving into a new stadium in 1966 located in Anaheim, not far from Disneyland.

More than two decades later, the Angels became part of the Disney family. As DisneyBizJournal.com noted in an April 1, 2019, story:

Michael Eisner and Disney acquired a stake in the Angels in 1996, and then purchased the entire team in 1998 from the Autry family. Autry passed away in 1998.

As for the ballpark, Angel Stadium underwent a $118 million renovation for Opening Day 1998, with Disney picking up $78 million of the tab, and the taxpayers covering the rest. And Walt Disney Imagineering was involved in the process. One can see the Disney touch with one particular part of the renovation, as described by Ballparks of Baseball.com: “In left centerfield is the ‘California spectacular’ where geysers erupt and a stream cascades down a mountainside covered with real trees and artificial rocks.” Very Disney.

However, while Disney magic was evident on the field, with the ultimate success of the 2002 World Series victory, the financial aspects of owning a baseball team didn’t add up for Disney. The team was sold in 2003 to Arturo Moreno, an Arizona businessman who made his money in the outdoor advertising industry.

By the way, pro baseball has been played in Disney’s Florida home as well. The Atlanta Braves spent spring training each season at The Stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World from 1998 to 2019. For good measure, the minor league Gulf Coast League Braves played at the ballpark from 1997 to 2007. Also, the Orlando Rays, another minor league team, called the ballpark home from 2000 to 2003.

Yes, Walt loved baseball, and the link between the game and his company has persisted.

I have no doubt that if Walt were alive today, he’d be quite pleased to see the return of baseball.


Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Also, get the paperback or Kindle edition of Ray Keating’s new book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York.