The Simpsons are now part of the Disney Umbrella.
With the recent completion of the Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox, there’s been a lot of talk about what is the status of the Springfield area at the Universal Parks. While there is a contract between Fox and Universal, the terms and conditions are not as public as the agreement between Marvel and Universal – so there are some grey areas that will go unanswered. So what do we know?
First, a bit of a brief history catch-up:
Announced in 2007, The Simpsons Ride opened at both Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood in May 2008, replacing the beloved Back to the Future ride at both parks. At this point, The Simpsons was entering its 20th season on Fox and was a year removed from the release of The Simpsons Movie – which was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $527 million worldwide. Due to the success of the attraction – and an opportunity to introduce more themed food & beverage, Universal expanded the surrounding areas around the ride and brought the town of Springfield to life in Orlando in 2013 (2015 in Hollywood).
So what exactly does the Disney acquisition of the Simpsons mean for Universal?
Nothing, at the moment.
We know that an agreement between Fox and Universal to use the Simpsons has an end date; what we don’t know is the length of those terms. Rumors indicate the duration is a 20 year licensing agreement, putting the end year at 2028. However, unlike the Marvel contract, there is no “in perpetuity” clause or region-based restrictions.
According to a Universal Orlando SEC 2007 filing, the following are the only terms we could identify that are public:
The Fox Agreement would be terminable in the event of our breach, or in certain cases following a change of control to which Fox did not consent. If Fox were to terminate the Fox Agreement, payments due with respect to the remaining term of the Fox Agreement will continue to be due and payable as and when they would have become due and payable, except that if the breach is a result of a change of control, then 50% of such remaining payments allocated to UCDP shall be due and payable as and when they would have become due and payable.
In essence, Universal can continue to license the characters in their parks unless Fox feels they have violated the terms of their agreement and can terminate early – which is a pretty standard clause in most licensing agreements. We have no reason to believe Universal would jeopardize and violate these terms, as they continue to have an outstanding relationship with other licensing partners – like Marvel and Warner Bros.
The question is what happens after the alleged 2028 end date.
As it stands now, the contract’s end term is the only obstacle that can impact the future of the Simpsons at Universal. Does Universal want to continue paying a licensing fee beyond the end date to Disney for another one of their properties? Probably not.
Another possibility, but unlikely, is Disney just decides to increase licensing fees, or not even engage in any licensing extension, forcing Universal to end the agreement. Free money is easy money, and we don’t see a scenario where Disney decides to turn down a quick buck with no effort from their end.
Some fans have suggested The Simpsons could be used as a bargaining chip for a trade, granting Disney Marvel’s theme park rights in Orlando while Universal gets The Simpsons rights. While The Simpsons will always be a recognizable property, the show is reaching the later stages of its existence and is now entering its 31st Season. Universal is also known to not be a company that clings to nostalgia, and is willing to move on and close a ride and/or area if that means bringing in a lucrative, new property. Marvel, on the other hand, is still at the height of popularity, making billions at the Box Office, merchandise, etc. In other terms – you wouldn’t trade a dollar for a quarter, would you?
The most likely scenario is Universal will continue to cut Disney a check until the contract ends in 2028, and decides its time to move on and replace Springfield.
Of course, there’s the chance Universal feels The Simpsons is an evergreen IP and decides to renew the agreement and continue paying licensing fees. However, The Simpsons Ride is utilizing a ride system that, even though receiving upgrades in 2008, will be closing in on 40 years of age when 2028 rolls around; leading us to believe moving on is a more likely route – but that’s just OUR opinion.
With the sales of Duff Beer, Flaming Moe’s and those huge donuts, Springfield is still a decently lucrative area; and Fast Food Blvd is one of the most popular quick-service spots in the parks. On the flip side, with the usually mature content of the Simpsons, along with Disney’s focus on other in-house properties, The Simpsons is not a franchise that is an ideal fit in a Disney theme park. From our vantage point, it’s a win-win situation for both sides, and Universal has no reason to replace the property before the contract supposedly ends.
With that said, you get to enjoy all the Duff beers you want at Universal Parks for the foreseeable future!