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Disney Wins Shareholder Proxy Battle, ESPN Stays on Iger-Led Path

  • The ESPN parent company defeated activist investor Peltz by ‘a substantial margin.’
  • A recent escalation in the stock helped advance the arguments made by CEO Bob Iger.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Disney has secured a critical victory in its shareholder proxy fight against billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz, allowing the ESPN parent to continue largely on its current strategy of navigating an unprecedented wave of media disruption. 

Following months of accelerating run-up, Disney shareholders firmly rejected a bid Wednesday by Peltz to gain two board seats, affirming the company’s entire recommended slate of 12 directors, including current CEO Bob Iger (above), by what Disney termed “a substantial margin.” The board, as a result, stays populated by Iger-friendly directors, and all but one were appointed on his watch.

Peltz had argued Disney needs to be far more aggressive on multiple business fronts, such as a succession plan for Iger, clarifying ESPN’s digital strategy, overhauling the company’s TV and movie business, and bundling ESPN+ and Netflix. Instead, the shareholder vote marks a strong affirmation for the company’s existing plan, which includes Iger stepping down at the end of 2026. 

For ESPN, that existing plan also includes the development of a stand-alone, direct-to-consumer version of the network debuting next year, a new sports betting partnership with Penn Entertainment, a potential partial equity sale, and a much-debated streaming joint venture with Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery. That DTC version of ESPN will also be made available through Disney+, the company said in its annual shareholder meeting.

“With the distracting proxy contest now behind us, we’re eager to focus 100% of our attention to our most important priorities: growth and value creation for our shareholders and creative excellence for our consumers,” Iger said.

Disney Arguments

Strongly boosting the case for Iger and Disney’s current strategy is a marked escalation in the company’s stock, which is up by more than a third so far this year. But that momentum did not continue Wednesday as shares closed down more than 3% to $118.98 each.

Despite the loss, Peltz and his Trian Fund Management still claimed some credit for influencing Disney’s current trajectory.

“We are proud of the impact we have had in refocusing the company on value creation and good governance,” Trian said. 

Iger, meanwhile, also lauded the ongoing rise of women’s sports, citing record viewership generated Monday on ESPN for March Madness, and said he’s “never been more bullish” on women’s sports than he is now.

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