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Land: Disney store closings and price-cuts show boycott working

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Walt Disney Company may never admit that the boycott engineered by a diverse collection of religious groups is having any effect on its operations, but some within the Southern Baptist Convention suggest Disney’s announcement that it is closing 140 of its retail stores is a sure sign that the entertainment giant is feeling the impact of the economic action against it.

“I read this news as a sign that the boycott Southern Baptists called in 1997 against the Disney Company is working,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noting that messengers to the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas called for a boycott of Disney and its subsidiaries in a resolution on moral stewardship.

“I predicted at the beginning that it would be at the Disney Stores where the SBC-supported boycott could have had the most visibility and the most impact,” Land said.

Disney is closing the stores as their leases expire, an action that will take several years, the Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 2, 2000. The company said it plans to remodel the remaining 600 of its stores over the next three years.

Much of the company’s financial weakness has been centered in its retail sector. Operating income in Disney’s consumer-products unit tumbled 48% in the company’s fiscal third-quarter, reported the Wall Street Journal Aug. 4, 2000. Although sales also remained weak in the company’s home-video unit, Disney enjoyed stronger-than-expected growth in net income during the quarter, courtesy of strong performance among the company’s broadcast networks and theme parks.

The third-quarter results were good news to Disney shareholders and executives who have weathered nearly two years of weak financial reports.

Land said that while Disney stores present a clear target for any economic action against the company, Disney-licensed merchandise is also sold in most major stores. In fact, the WSJ reported that Disney Stores only accounted for 6% of the company’s consumer-products unit’s income; 70% of the unit’s income is from the company’s Disney’s licensing efforts.

Due to lackluster consumer products’ sales, the company also announced they were cutting suggested retail-price points by 30% or more on mass-market Disney-licensed items sold in non-Disney stores. Land said that while Southern Baptists and others who are targeting Disney for its “family-unfriendly policies and productions” can’t claim victory, the store closings and price-cuts signal the boycott is having an influence on the company.

“The news that Disney’s retail sector is slashing prices of its branded products in the market is a clear indication that the entertainment giant is not moving product,” Land continued. “It is fair to assume that Southern Baptists and others who stand against Disney’s new direction under Michael Eisner are in a position to take substantial credit for what is now being acknowledged by the Disney Corporation.”

Land said it will be worth watching to see which Disney Stores are closed, speculating that the closings may be proportionally heaviest in the South and the Southeast U.S., given the concentration of Southern Baptists in those areas of the country.

Andrew Mooney, the president of Disney Consumer Products Worldwide, said in the Oct. 4 WSJ article that Disney was “a sleeping giant.” He said he plans to change the Disney into “an incredible consumer-products company.”

On a separate front, an old friend was attacking Disney.

Dean Jones, best known as the star of Disney family favorites The Love Bug; That Darn Cat; The Shaggy D.A.; and several other Disney classics, accused the company of becoming “a chief purveyor of violence and sex to children.”

“The leadership at Disney no longer recognizes the value of providing entertainment that unifies and strengthens the American family,” Jones said in a Parents Television Council release. The PTC, a non-profit grassroots organization, is working “to restore responsibility to the entertainment industry.”

Jones said Disney once was “a national treasure.” He said the corporation has become “another member of the Hollywood mob, stripping off whatever shred of decency still remain attached to Lady Liberty.”

A Parents Television Council analysis of movie advertisements aired during the Family Hour — network television between 8 and 9 PM ET — found that 83% of the ads were for R-rated movies. Almost a third of those movies, 29%, were produced by Walt Disney Studios, which includes Disney, Buena Vista, Touchstone, Hollywood, Miramax, and Dimension.

Following hearings before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on the issue of marketing mature-themed movies to youngsters Sept. 27, several Hollywood studios, including Disney, said they would modify their behavior. These studio executives promised to refrain from showing R-rated movie trailers before PG films and to not advertise R-rated movies on youth-oriented websites. Disney-owned ABC Television pledged to stop airing ads for R-rated movies before 9 PM ET.

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