Typically, EPCOT Central doesn't publicly call out responses to posts, though every single one is read (multiple times, usually) and appreciated. However, this one is worthy of making an exception. In response to EPCOT Central's "Marketing EPCOT" entry, a user who chose to remain "Anonymous" wrote, in part:
"Almost all of your posts write about how to re-brand the park and deal with marketing and management. You never consider the internal structure might be flawed. Unlike a Disneyland style park, Epcot is basically a showcase for corporate America. Its in bed with various sponsors to fund the park's operation costs. No other park has a sponsor for every attraction. ..." (Followed by a great deal of valid complaint and comment on EPCOT's sponsorship structure. The entire response won't be quoted, but you can read it here.)
Further, Anonymous claimed that thh suggestion to "re-structure the park back to its original intent is bad. You make no effort to suggest how Epcot (or EPCOT CENTER, whatever) would be able to compliment the rest of Disney's offerings. Its like putting a book in a stack of video games and letting the public chose their form of entertainment. ... What's even more ridiculous is that you're asking them to re-brand Epcot for a niche audience. With that much land invested into the concept, I doubt they'll be gearing towards a niche anytime soon. ... This is why when the company tries to synergize you get things like Kim Possible and Donald Duck...its the only content they have. The parks are extensions of a brand, not the reverse. How do you expect them to manage an entire theme park around a concept when they can't even develop smaller investments (TV or consumer products franchises) around the education/discover concept?"
It genuinely seems to me worth opening up a discussion among all EPCOT Central readers about the subjects Anonymous raises. Partly, this is because Anonymous raises some arguments that I think are probably shared within The Walt Disney Company and, unfortunately, fail to grasp some of the basic truths about EPCOT Center, Disney's theme-park business and the potential of The Walt Disney Company as a whole to become better. And given that Disney is firing many of its employees, charging fans $75 to receive marketing material, just announced that it is halting Hong Kong expansion, and has lost more than $30 billion in market-cap value in recent years, there's obviously a lot of room for improvement.
Two and a half years ago, EPCOT Central asserted that "as goes EPCOT, so goes Disney," and so far, there's been little evidence to the contrary.
So, first, let's get one important fact out of the way -- indeed, almost every major attraction at Disneyland-style parks have (or have had) corporate sponsors. It's not difficult to find a list. They include AT&T, Energizer, Kodak, FedEx, Mattel, NIPPON Oil, TOMY, Dai-Chi Mutual Life Insurance, Fujifilm, RCA, Esso and many others. These are only the attractions at Disneyland-style parks. From the outset, from the very conception of Disneyland, sponsorship has been a key element.
Of course, many major attractions -- such as The Haunted Mansion, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Indiana Jones Adventure, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and others -- operate without any sponsorship at all. Either sponsorships have lapsed, the rides were conceived to be sponsor-free, or there simply was no sponsor interest. Certainly not every major attraction requires a sponsor, and there's no reason that should not be the case at EPCOT.
EPCOT Center was unlike any other Disney theme park from the start. The reason sponsors were sought was not solely to underwrite costs, but because the unusual "pavilion" concept allowed EPCOT's attractions to thoroughly and completely convey a sponsor's intended message. The sponsor's logo wasn't simply pasted onto the ride; the entire concept was developed with the partner's involvement.
So, quite the opposite than "flawed," the sponsorship opportunities at EPCOT are quite brilliant. The problem is, Disney cannot define the park to potential sponsors, cannot articulate a clear vision, and have difficulty helping sponsors understand why such an "old-fashioned" concept is still relevant. In this area, Disney clearly needs some help. When companies are spending literally billions of dollars on acquisitions, brand extensions and new businesses, there should still be money for something that captures tens of millions of people as singularly as a trip to a Disney theme park.
But today's Disney is not like yesterday's. While market cap and overall value have declined precipitously, Disney has the money, the ability and the power to operate its own theme park, even without sponsor money. It can, it just won't, and the question of "why" is indeed a curious one. Why wouldn't Disney want to encourage its own vision of the future, to lay out its own story of what we can be in our Future World, to present its own vision of our peoples in World Showcase? Well, in part, it does appear to want this -- as long as that vision includes Pixar characters, Disney characters or synergistic opportunities.
Disney's "vision" these days doesn't see far beyond its balance sheet, which is too bad -- because when you consider the remarkable opportunity it has created for itself, it's almost scary. Tens of millions of people are in Disney's thrall every year, and yet it does not try to espouse a particular set of views or philosophies. It's a big like a comic-book super-villain bent on "dominating the world" instead being content to sell toys and candy to everyone. Yes, I'm implying here that Disney could use its unprecedented opportunity to spout propaganda for nefarious purposes ... it could also use that opporutnity for remarkably good purposes, employing (as it once did) some of the greatest scientific and philosophical minds to create a vision of a possible future.
But really all it wants to do is sell more toys and candy. Oh, and lots and lots of t-shirts.
That's a major opportunity wasted, if you ask me.
In fact, EPCOT Center (or lower-case Epcot) should indeed"compliment (sic) the rest of Disney's offerings." But I think you were trying to imply that they should all be more alike than different -- an assertion I couldn't disagree with more. That's no more true than saying Disney should make only one kind of movie, only one kind of TV show, produce only one type of toy, publish only one type of book. Just as you would not want every house in your city to look exactly the same, or every piece of furniture in your house to strictly adhere to the same design ... just as you would not want every child in the world to think alike ... or every painting by Van Gogh to look alike ... or every piece of music by Mozart to sound alike ... every Disney theme park should "compliment" (actually, that's complement) each other, not mirror each other.
They should exist harmoniously together. They should each offer an experience that is unique and exciting and entertaining. Totally different, totally unlike the other, yet also making up a wonderful whole.
In fact, you're right, Anonymous: It's exactly like letting the public choose "their own form of entertainment." It's why we have hundreds of TV channels, hundreds of movies released annually, why the shelves of Target or Wal-Mart or Blockbuster are filled with thousands upon thousands of movies. Each one of us likes something different ... and in sum, we can say we share a common love "of movies" or "of reading" or "of Disney," even if our individual definition is different. Unfortunately, Disney, like you, would have it mean only the same thing, narrowly defined, denying itself the one thing that Walt Disney used to encourage us all to believe in: possibility.
Why Disney can't recapture that, why it has become a concept so narrowly defined that it can't sustain EPCOT, why it can't see Spaceship Earth as much more than "a giant golf ball," well ... that is the real disappointment.
As a longtime fan, as a lifelong shareholder, and as a steadfast believer in the things Walt Disney spent his life trying to get us to believe, it is saddening. This quote has been used before, and it will be used again no doubt -- the comment Eric Sevareid made on the night Walt Disney died: "The century hardly deserved him."