The Walt Disney Co. plans for “a far greater ‘Star Wars’ presence” in its theme parks, company chief Bob Iger said Tuesday.
The first look at new attractions based on the sci-fi franchise, beyond “Star Tours” that currently operates at several of its parks, will be revealed next year, Iger said during a conference call with analysts to discuss Disney’s record third quarter results.
The move comes as Disney is readying to release a new “Star Wars” film in theaters starting Dec. 18, 2015, that J.J. Abrams is currently directing.
Lucasfilm and Disney also will host Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim on April 16-19, while “Star Wars” is expected to have a major presence at the D23 Expo, Aug. 14-16, again from the Anaheim Convention Center.
Disney opted not to inject more “Star Wars” into its parks until its $4 billion acquisition of the company was complete. Deal also gives it the Indiana Jones franchise, already represented by a ride and stunt show at Disney’s resorts.
During the call, Iger said when Disney now decides to build new attractions, “the likelihood of their success is greater” when they’re branded. “When we grow ‘Star Wars” presence, which we will do significantly, you will see better bets being made that will pay off for us than were made in the past,” adding that leveraging the collection of popular franchises and properties that the company owns for rides and experiences will deliver “better returns than we saw in the past.”
Disney has enjoyed a considerable uptick in attendance after the introduction of new rides and themed lands designed around its popular film properties. The “Cars”-themed land at California Adventure, which was part of a $1 billion overhaul of that park, has been a major draw to that park since it opened; an expansion of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom is now complete and has guests lining up for hours to ride the “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” ride in Orlando.
“Toy Story” themed lands are now also attracting guests at Disney resorts in Hong Kong and Paris, while “Avatar” rides are being built inside Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, also in Orlando.
“These are attractions that pull people from I’m going to go to a Disney park someday to I want to go this year,” said Disney chief financial officer Jay Rasulo, during the call.
Although ESPN is a major moneymaker for Disney overall, the company has a limited presence inside the company’s parks. It does operate several ESPN Zone restaurants at its Downtown Disney entertainment complexes.
“In general, the experience people want is more of a storytelling experience, not necessarily a sports experience,” Iger said. “The presence (of ESPN at the parks) doesn’t seem to be that obvious.”
When asked if Disney was looking to broker new licensing deals with other franchise owners for attractions the way it did with James Cameron’s “Avatar,” Iger dismissed the notion, citing properties owned by Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm,
“We don’t have to license from third parties,” he said. “We own them all.”