How much is Disneyland worth to California? Billions

September 13, 2019, 2:33 PM · Disneyland Resort President Josh D’Amaro hosted an Orange County Forum luncheon at the resort today, where he introduced a California State University Fullerton study that found that Disneyland is worth more than $8 billion a year to Southern California’s economy.

The study by Cal State Fullerton's Woods Center for Economic Analysis and Forecasting and commissioned by Disney reported that Disneyland visitors generated $8.5 billion in economic impact to the region, including $2.5 billion in offsite purchases at other local businesses. The study also said that the resort's economic impact has increased by 50 percent since 2013, due to additional investment by the resort and general economic growth.

Disneyland in 2012 completed its expansion and refurbishment of Disney California Adventure, opening Cars Land and Buena Vista Street. The resort’s Diamond Celebration in 2015-6 also pushed attendance, followed by the debut of Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout in 2017, an expansion of seasonal festivals at DCA, and this year's opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland, which was the largest single investment within the original park in its history.

Since 2013, attendance has grown 16% at Disney California Adventure and 15% at Disneyland. Over the same period, one-day ticket prices to the parks have increased by 13% to 62% — from $92 a day to $104-149, depending upon the date you visit. (Disneyland did not have date-specific ticket pricing in 2013.) Those increases have helped drive up spending by Disneyland visitors, increasing their economic impact upon the community.

But Disneyland's growth also has driven political battles. Disneyland and its unions engaged in a, uh, very public negotiation before reaching a new contract that raises pay for the resorts' cast members. But they did cut a deal. The battle between Disney and the City of Anaheim continues to fester, after the city canceled a promised tax deal for Disneyland to build a fourth on-site hotel, following Disney moving the proposed site of that hotel after community opposition led the resort to cancel its Eastern Gateway project that would have included a new parking structure next to Interstate 5, east of Harbor Boulevard.

Disney ended up building the Pixar Pals parking structure instead, which pushed the fourth hotel into what is now the western end of Downtown Disney, which the city claimed substantially altered the project. Without the tax deal, Disneyland canceled the project... after most of the locations on that end of Downtown Disney, including the movie theaters, had closed.

The battle has spilled into Anaheim city council elections, where candidates have run on either standing with or standing up to Disneyland. Yet Disney leaders insist that the resort more than pays its fair share to support the community, using this new study to back that claim.

“The study, which focused on the fiscal year from October 2017 to September 2018, also determined that Disneyland Resort, its employees, visitors and supporting third-party businesses, generated nearly $510 million in annual state and local tax revenue, an increase of more than $136 million in tax contributions, or 6 percent average annual growth since 2013. Nearly $162 million in tax revenue went to Anaheim’s general fund,” the university reported in its press release announcing the study.

Determining economic impact of a specific business or project is a little like measuring water falling through the air. You can do it, but you have to account for a whole lot of other variables. Ultimately, it's an exercise in imagining alternate realities. How many people would be employed, spending how much money, if something else stood on the land where Disneyland is now?

Clearly, Disneyland is worth a lot to Anaheim, to Orange County, and to California. There's no way that dozens of hotels would line Harbor Boulevard without the resort attracting millions of fans to the neighborhood each year. The Anaheim Convention Center draws many, but I've never seen a convention held there that did not offer Disneyland tickets to its attendees. Without Disneyland, it's hard to imagine that center being nearly as popular as it is today... if it existed at all.

But the revenue generated by Disneyland comes with costs. Moving all those visitors and cast members around strains local roads and transit. Demand for affordable hotels drives visitors to Airbnb and other vacation rentals, which in turn often reduces the supply of housing available for local residents, helping inflate housing prices. And high-priced housing can make it hard for people earning Disneyland's wages to live nearby without community financial support. That pushes people to live farther away, increasing traffic, etc.

You drop a pebble in the water, and it ripples, affecting everything around it. Regardless of whether neighbors see it as a positive or negative for the community, everyone should agree that Disneyland is one really big rock.

Replies (4)

September 13, 2019 at 4:28 PM

Very interesting read. Would be interested to see a similar report on the economic impact of WDW in Orlando. Thanks for the well researched article!

September 14, 2019 at 2:01 PM

This kind of reports are very tricky. I have made these things myself and there are a lot of different ways how you can interpret numbers. I should need to know every single piece of information they used and how they used it to put any value on it. From a distance I can see the park generates a lot of low income jobs for people who have a hard time making month ends.

September 15, 2019 at 12:21 PM

@Jack: Over the last 50 years? Considering where the Orlando area was prior to WDW opening and where it is now, likely HUNDREDS of billions!

September 15, 2019 at 6:26 PM

The great "Disneyland Story" book my Sam Greenway goes in depth to the issues of the city and company and fascinating to read the symbiotic relationship between them. Makes it clear that as much as they try to play hardball, the Anaheim council knows how badly they need Disney.

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