GM might end 10-year Disney World sponsorship
One of Walt Disney World‘s marquee sponsorship deals is in jeopardy.
Struggling U.S. auto giant General Motors Corp. is considering pulling out as sponsor of Test Track, the high-speed Epcot attraction that is among the most popular rides in all of Disney World.
A 10-year contract between Disney and GM expires this year. And GM, which lost $31 billion last year and is relying on loans from the federal government to stay in business, may not be able to afford renewing the pact. Disney and GM have been unable to strike a deal. GM has indicated it wants a resolution by the end of this month.
“We’re still in discussions with them and haven’t made a decision,” GM spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato said. “It’s definitely one that I think people are doing everything they can to preserve.”
It is a lucrative partnership for Disney. Neither company would discuss the terms, but Automotive News reported last month that GM pays Disney close to $5 million a year.
The original corporate sponsors in Epcot, which opened in 1982, paid as much as $35 million over 10 years, according to a former Epcot executive. The German engineering giant Siemens AG is reported to be paying Disney $100 million over 12 years to sponsor Epcot’s Spaceship Earth attraction.
Disney declined to discuss details of its talks with GM. “We continue to have a relationship with General Motors and are having ongoing discussions about continuing our relationship,” spokeswoman Kim Prunty said Tuesday.
For GM, the marketing advantages of its Test Track sponsorship are obvious. Epcot lures an estimated 11 million visitors each year, making it the second-busiest theme park at Disney World and the third-busiest in the world.
The ride features vehicles, controlled by onboard computers, that carry guests through a series of simulated car-safety tests. During the 51/2-minute ride, guests are exposed to 100-degree temperature changes, bounced around hairpin turns, and hurtled through a final, outdoor sprint that reaches 65 mph, the top speed of any ride at Disney World.
GM’s presence is everywhere. The carmaker’s corporate logo is splashed throughout the pavilion that houses the ride. The queue includes a room featuring aerial photos of GM “proving grounds” around the world, from a desert track in Mesa, Ariz., to a cold-weather facility in northern Ontario. Guests exit through a swanky showroom displaying more than a dozen GM vehicles and a gift shop hawking pink Cadillac ball caps, die-cast Corvettes and electronic-toy Hummers.
When the ride debuted in March 1999, GM’s vice president for marketing and advertising in North America said it would “help build brand awareness, corporate image and ultimately introduce new customers to GM dealers and our products.”
The benefits extend beyond advertising. Disney also purchases GM vehicles, including Chevrolet Trailblazers and Silverados and Saturn Vue hybrids, for its corporate fleet as part of the contract, according to people familiar with the sponsorship.
But as valuable as the pact is to GM, the company may no longer be able to afford it. The automaker has said it could go out of business without as much as $16.6 billion in loans from the U.S. government, on top of $13.4 billion in taxpayer loans it has received.
GM would not be the first major corporate sponsor to drop out at Epcot. General Electric, ExxonMobil and AT&T are all former sponsors. Theme-park analysts also say they are certain Test Track would continue operating even if GM pulled out, as the ride’s capacity is vital to managing park crowds.