UPDATED at 2:50PM PT with Disney statement. The Coalition of Resort Labor Unions, which represents about 17,000 workers at Disney parks and resorts, has scheduled a protest for Saturday morning at Disneyland in Anaheim.
A hotel union, Unite Here Local 11, is co-hosting the “Disney Caravan for Safety” event with the CRLU. It is scheduled from 10AM to noon PT.
“We’re not yet satisfied that it’s safe to open Disneyland,” the CRLU said in a Facebook notice. “Join us and speak up for safety!”
A Disney spokesperson said in a statement to Deadline: “The safety and wellbeing of our cast members and guests are at the forefront of our planning. We are in active dialogue with our unions on the extensive health and safety protocols, following guidance from public health experts, which we plan to implement as we move toward our proposed, phased reopening.”
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PREVIOUSLY: Tokyo Disneyland has become the last of Disney’s theme parks to announce plans to reopen, but the expected return of visitors to all company sites by mid-July comes amid a rise in COVID-19 infections, especially in Florida.
Officials at Tokyo Disneyland said Monday the park will reopen on July 1, joining the company’s venues in Shanghai and Hong Kong as the first to emerge from months-long pandemic-related shutdowns. Disney World in Florida, Disneyland Paris and Disneyland in Anaheim are targeting and July 11, 15 and 17, respectively, as key dates for their phased restarts.
Safety measures being put in place in the parks reopening in July are very similar to what is in place at Shanghai and Hong Kong, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans. Attendance has been kept at modest levels and the stringent enforcement efforts have made the reopenings in Asia so far free from major flare-ups of the virus.
Shopping and dining already has reopened at Disney Springs in Florida, with masks and social distancing requirements, just as the state passed 100,000 coronavirus cases on Monday. Osceola and Orange counties, where the Disney properties are located, are seeing daily new infection rates more than four times the levels of two weeks ago. Outbreaks at a Philadelphia Phillies training site in Clearwater and the University of Florida athletics program, plus concerns among some NBA players about the league’s late-July restart at a Disney property in Florida, are only adding to the uncertainty.
A petition has circulated in recent days calling on local Florida officials to postpone the reopening of Disney World and other Disney properties. As of Tuesday, it had collected more than 6,000 signatures. It asks the mayors of Orlando and Orange County to “reconsider the opening of theme parks and resorts until a time when COVID-19 cases are no longer rising and no longer posing risk of spreading this disease to our working cast/team members, their families, and our theme park guests.”
The Coalition of Resort Labor Unions, whose 17,000 members span about a dozen Disneyland unions, recently sent California Gov. Gavin Newsom a letter urging him to stick a pin in the Disney park’s restart. California’s increase in COVID-19 cases, while not quite as alarming as Florida’s, is putting pressure on communities that are antsy to reopen for economic reasons.
For Disney, the parks shutdown has cost the company significant revenue in 2020, as have the losses of theatrical moviegoing and live sports, and the hangover is expected to linger into 2021. In the quarter ened March 31, revenue in the company’s Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products unit fell 10% to $5.5 billion, with operating income plunging 58% to $639 million. Investors have not lost faith, however — the company’s shares, which bottomed out at $79.07 during the panicked period of March as the pandemic took hold, have traded in recent weeks mostly above $110. They closed Tuesday at $116.59, up a fraction but still well below its level of $140-$150 in the final weeks of 2019.
On a Disney-owned parcel of land outside Orlando, ESPN Wide World of Sports is slated to host the returns of the NBA and Major League Soccer in games without fans this summer. A couple of NBA players have already opted out, and players will have to notify the league by Wednesday if they intend to take part. Proponents of sticking with the plan note that half of all Florida cases are in the southern part of the state, far from Orlando, with about 25% of them in the Miami area.
Rich Greenfield, a Wall Street analyst with LightShed Partners, has tweeted frequently about his skepticism about the return of theme parks with patrons in masks before a treatment or vaccine is available for the virus. “Reopening Disney is going to be harder than investors realize, let alone getting back to normalized attendance levels,” he wrote on June 19.
There is plenty of bullish sentiment in the market, however. Jessica Reif Ehrlich, an analyst with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, recently upped her price target on Disney and reaffirmed her “buy” rating on the stock.
The media giant is “well positioned to grow stronger through the crisis,” she wrote in a note to clients, observing that the COVID-19-driven reassessment of cost structures in the parks unit could improve profit margins for the long term.
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