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Disney Hopes 'Ducks' Make a Splash in O.C.

March 02, 1993|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Adding a touch of suspense to a gala press conference to announce the expected--that Walt Disney Co.'s new hockey team will begin play in October--Disney Chairman Michael Eisner on Monday unveiled the team's official name:

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

An Anaheim Arena gathering of about 250, which included National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall and numerous Disney, city and arena officials, cheered Eisner's choice, which came despite widespread criticism, to name the team after Disney's 1992 box-office hit, "The Mighty Ducks."

"If we're a very good team, I think it will be a great name," said Eisner, who was decked out in a Mighty Ducks sweat shirt and cap. "If we're a very bad team, it will be a bad name. But I welcome the puns."

The NHL also welcomed another expansion team Monday when the Miami franchise, which is owned by Blockbuster Entertainment chief Wayne Huizenga, announced that it will join the league in 1993, bringing to 26 the number of NHL teams for the league's 77th season.

Miami hasn't decided on a team nickname yet, but Anaheim's will no doubt spark more controversy.

Eisner conceded in December that the name could be ridiculed, and that the most opposition to it came "from my own kitchen." The nickname also lends itself to certain vulgarities that rhyme with the word "duck," a trap into which Eisner nearly stumbled when he presented an "Official Duck Puck" to Bettman.

"Something sounded wrong about that," Eisner said. "But it came out OK."

Eisner, whose company had made virtually no public statements regarding hockey since it won conditional approval to establish an NHL team in December, had plenty to say at Monday's press conference, which had a distinct Disney flair--brass band, cheerleaders, roller hockey players, Disney characters, hundreds of balloons and bales of confetti.

* Disneyland President Jack Lindquist will also be the hockey team's chairman and "chief marketeer." Arena management specialist Tony Tavares, former chief executive officer of the Philadelphia-based Spectacor Management Group, will be president of Disney Sports Enterprises, the entity created to run the team. Tavares, 43, will be in charge of the team's day-to-day operations.

* The team will hold a contest to design a team logo and choose team colors, and prices for single-game tickets, season tickets, club seats and luxury boxes will be determined in the next two weeks. Fans can call 1-800-HOCKEY4 for information or to be added to the season ticket priority list, which already has about 9,500 names.

* Disney will make a commitment to youth hockey and hopes to build a state-of-the art, twin-rink practice facility in Anaheim, a building that would be used for Mighty Duck practices and youth clinics. "I believe controlled contact sports are a great outlet for energy, and hockey relieves a lot of young tension," said Eisner, whose two sons play junior hockey.

* Disney's sequel to "The Mighty Ducks," which Eisner said will be released next fall or winter, will be titled "D2: The Champions" and will be filmed in the Anaheim Arena this summer.

* When the Mighty Ducks are introduced, or when they score a goal or when they give fans any reason to be emotional, spectators will be asked to join together in the team's first tradition--the blowing of duck calls, which will be coming soon to a Disney Store near you.

"It's the newest item from Disney merchandise," Eisner said. "It'll be a quack heard 'round the world."

If the sight of grown men and women blowing duck calls at Monday's press conference wasn't silly enough, Eisner dropped another goofy bombshell that might draw even more criticism than the team's nickname.

Disney will rename the Anaheim Arena "The Pond in Anaheim."

Under the terms of the 30-year lease with the City of Anaheim and the Ogden Entertainment Co., which operates the arena, Disney could choose a name for the new, $103-million, 17,250-seat building, as long as "Anaheim" was either in the name of the building or the team.

"We're proud to say we're the only sports team in Anaheim that has 'Anaheim' in its name," Eisner said. "We think that's good business, good politics, and it may be good for Westcot," Eisner added, alluding to a $3-billion expansion of Disneyland that his company hopes to build in Anaheim.

The Mighty Ducks is one thing. But The Pond in Anaheim?

"I know many of you think that's silly, but if we called it 'The Coliseum,' or 'The Arena,' no one would know where it is," Eisner said. "The Pond will only be in Anaheim."

That drew a lukewarm response from those in attendance, a mixture of chuckles and groans.

"Hey, it's Disney, what can I do?" Eisner said. "We're a theatrical company. There's nothing we won't stoop to do as far as silliness. We hope to lighten things up, make hockey a family sport, not just for a bunch of guys who are out looking for a fight."

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