Coronavirus puts ‘extreme pressure’ on all three pillars of Disney’s business

The avalanche of American sports cancellations and suspensions due to coronavirus spells obvious bad news for the broadcasters that air those sports.

The NBA, NHL, and Major League Soccer paused their seasons; the NCAA canceled the March Madness tournament; The Masters is postponed. The loss of the NBA in particular is a blow to Disney, which has NBA rights on ABC and ESPN. (And ESPN+ has the rights to MLS games.)

But one silver lining for Disney is the thinking that with so many Americans now staying home out of precaution, streaming services will benefit. Disney+ as a newer service (it launched on Nov. 19, just four months ago) might even stand to benefit more than the existing leaders like Netflix and Amazon Prime, since people who have not yet subscribed to Disney+ may decide to give it a try.

There is no such silver lining for Disney in its parks being closed.

Amid concerns over the rapid global spread of coronavirus, Disney has now temporarily shut all eleven of its theme parks in the world. That includes Disneyland in California, Disney World in Florida, Disneyland Paris, Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, both of which closed back in February. Disney also suspended all its Disney Cruise Line cruises.

Parks and Resorts are the profit engine of the company, even if its studio division has gotten the bulk of the buzz in the past two years.

Super Bowl MVP Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes stands next to Mickey Mouse and waves to fans during a parade at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

And then there’s Disney’s movie business.

Disney on Friday delayed the release of its live-action remake of “Mulan,” its most expensive live-action remake yet with a budget of around $200 million. It also halted production all its current live-action movies.

Disney’s recent live-action remakes like “Aladdin” and “Lion King” were massive hits, both banking more than $1 billion at the global box office.

“Mulan” was set to premiere in the U.S. on March 27. Disney had already canceled the “Mulan” premiere in China, but had held off on delaying the U.S. debut. Earlier this week, Disney still held its big “Mulan” red-carpet premiere event in Los Angeles.

“The marketing spend has already been spent,” says LightShed media analyst Rich Greenfield. “I don’t think that movie’s going to open.”

So, to recap the situation for Disney right now: Parks closed, sports canceled, and movie theaters expected to close.

“All three major parts of their operation are under extreme pressure over the course of the next few weeks,” Greenfield said on Thursday. “I’m actually surprised Disney [stock] wasn’t down more today, to be honest.” (Disney shares fell 13% on Thursday, and are now down 32% in 2020.)

That’s not to say that things can’t rebound—if the coronavirus doesn’t last more than a month or two, parks can reopen. On the sports side, the NBA, NHL, MLS, and MLB have all expressed the hope that they can pick up their season soon. MLS specifically said its pause is only for 30 days, for now, and the NBA has also indicated that it hopes to finish the season.

As Greenfield notes, “If the [NBA] Playoffs still happen in July, all the ad revenue you were going to get from the Playoffs will be okay, it will be delayed but okay. If the Playoffs don’t happen, this is a very substantial hit to ESPN, ABC, TNT, this is just brutal.”

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers Disney. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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