The Brilliance of Disney Hosting Professional Sports

The future home of the NBA? Photo: Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort via Getty Images

No major American professional sports league has yet announced its official return, but plans are brewing for the NBA, MLB, and others to come back. One of the big questions is where, exactly, these leagues will play, since traveling from city to city is currently not happening. On the latest Pivot podcast, Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway discuss one idea in contention, at least for the NBA: that Disney World step in and host the games. The plan, they agree, makes a whole lot of sense.

Kara Swisher: Professional sports leagues are ready to make a comeback, and Disney might be the happiest place on Earth for fans. The White House called for sports as an essential part of the great American comeback — after churches, I guess. Now, many leagues are preparing risk-reduction strategies to get games going. This includes playing without fans, which is weird, but there you have it. Leagues working on plans include NASCAR, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League, which — boy, without fans, I’m not sure I want to watch that.

Disney, despite having notable challenges in the theme park-business, has found itself a key role in this effort. The NBA is considering a relocation of the entire league to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Disney’s Orlando theme park. That’s a fascinating idea. The complex is roughly 255 acres with multiple arenas — it’s really impressive. Major League Soccer is also considering moving there. Meanwhile, Disney is working to reopen the theme park as well.

To me, this is really fascinating. So, no one knows how it’s going to play out, but I’ve to say: of all the companies, I would trust Disney to do the right thing around safety and everything else. Everybody wants sports to come back, and of course they have to come back. They’re so important from a financial point of view, and I think from a mental point of view for our society, too. What do you make of all this?

Scott Galloway: A couple of things, just on sports. I believe spectator sports is the new cancer. Show me someone who spends two, three hours a night watching ESPN and then football all day Sunday, and I’ll show you a future of failed relationships and anger. I think people need to be playing sports a lot more than watching them, but that’s neither here nor there.

So look, if you think about the competence that has garnered hundreds of billions, of trillions of dollars in value that largely reemerged in the last three decades — it’s been the ability to digitize something. Your ability to take storytelling, commerce experiences, and try to digitize them, or turn them into software, has become the premier competence that has reshaped the global economy. And what’s interesting here is that there might be a new competence emerging that reshuffles dramatic shareholder value, and that is loosely what I would call “vaccination.” And if you think about what Amazon is trying to do with its supply chain — it’s trying to vaccinate its supply chain, and of course its stock just hit an all-time high. And I think it’ll be at $2 trillion by the end of 2021. And Disney, who are the second smartest guys or gals in the room, has said, “All right, how do we unlock assets to become the first vaccinated experience?”

I did my pre-prom at Disney. And it was like, if you lit up a joint or even thought about lighting up a joint, some nice white kid came up to you and before you knew it you were in the Disney jail. Not that I would know about that. Not that I would know about that.

Swisher: What does the Disney jail look like, Scott?

Galloway: Disney is literally like — I was about to say Nazis, but I don’t want to compare anyone to Nazis. The good part of Nazis — very organized, very meticulous, and very methodical.

Swisher: No, no, stop. There’s no good part. Can you just say they’re organized like the police of Singapore or something like that? Try to find a non-Nazi.

Galloway: Disneyland is run like a Panzer-tank division.

Swisher: Once again, Panzer would be Nazis. There’s so many other comparisons. I’m going to force you into a better one.


Twice weekly, Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher host Pivot, a New York Magazine podcast about business, technology, and politics.

Galloway: Anyway, you have a company that has the ability to continue to deliver exceptional differentiated experiences in a vaccinated, somewhat safe place. Even if a lot of it is just show and reputation. And then it potentially is saying, “All right, now we can bring it to this $200 billion-a-year franchise called sports. We have the facilities, we have the reputation, we have the human capital. We have the protocols, we have the systems, and we have the brand to pull this all off.” So I think this is really visionary.

Swisher: I think it’s a great idea.

Galloway: I love the term “unlock.” It means taking existing assets and looking at them in a different way. And when you think about what Walmart did with click-and-collect grocery — let’s stop taxing people with this shitty in-store experience and just give them the great experience of our groceries, which are fantastic. I actually think, in sports, that taking away the fans from NASCAR is an unlock. I don’t think NASCAR fans are adding anything to the TV experience, right?

Swisher: Not the TV experience. No, but they do make money from the fees.

Galloway: I think most sports have become mostly about TV. You go to a Miami Heat game — that shit’s for real; there are some really hot people walking around. That adds to the experience. Hockey, not so much, but they turn down the lights in a lot of sports.

This is what could happen, and it’s really interesting. My show on Vice airs after something called The Dark Side of the Ring. And it’s all about professional wrestling, so of course I’m learning about professional wrestling. By the way, amazing athletes. But in the ring, it’s staged — it’s a show. But the audience reaction is real. And I wonder if professional sports are headed the opposite way, where what’s going on in the court is for real, but the audience becomes a stage presentation and that is using holograms, cardboard cutouts, turning the lights down, special effects. Like the Norman Lear comedies of the ’80s where they have a laugh track. I bet they’re going to be able to have the NBA finals and mimic the crowd, largely electronically and through special effects.

Swisher: Yeah, they probably could. But I think people still like going to sporting events. With an empty baseball stadium — sure, they can play, but there’s something exciting about being there. And I think it’s exciting for the athletes, too. But you’re right, what matters is the money they make from TV more than anything.

I think getting them started like this is a great solution until we get to a vaccine where people can actually physically show up. I do think they’re running into a lot of problems if they bring in too many people to Disney World. But I do have to say, in terms of park management — I interviewed several different Disney executives over the years about the technology, and they had used these things that you put on your wrist. We introduced them at one of our All Things D conferences and stuff. They’re incredible at crowd management and moving people.

Galloway: Great at what they do — great operators.

Swisher: And if you’ve ever been on a Disney cruise — literally, it’s run — not like Nazis, but it’s run with great efficiency.

Galloway: Like the Hindenburg! I’m sorry, the QE2.

Swisher: We’re staying away from Hitler for the rest of the show and probably forever.

Pivot is produced by Rebecca Sananes. Erica Anderson is the executive producer. 

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

The Brilliance of Disney Hosting Professional Sports