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This Is, Understandably, a Mickey Mouse Operation

August 04, 1996|Thomas Bonk

Five or six years ago, if you said the most successfully marketed team in pro hockey would feature a Duck, people would be pretty sure you either took one too many pucks on the chin or spent way too much time in front of the television set Saturday mornings.

Of course, we know now it is true, all of it. With tiny webbed feet, the Mighty Ducks stood on the threshold of something really big in hockey and they just waddled right on in.

The secret was marketing, and since the Walt Disney Co. owned the Ducks, the whole operation was basically in place. The process was so simple, Goofy could understand it.

Instead of theme parks and movies, this time it was sports. At one point, the Ducks accounted for 80% of sales of NHL merchandise. The Ducks have been the top-selling team of merchandise in the NHL each year they have been in the league.

At the age of 3, they already are playing with the big boys. The top three professional teams in sales of merchandise are the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys and the Ducks.

As heartwarming as this may be to Disney executives and stockholders, there are even bigger plans underway.

The same people who own the Ducks also own the Angels and will run Anaheim Stadium beginning Oct. 1.

There are ongoing talks with the NFL about putting a new team in a new stadium in Orange County.

There are talks about staging a professional golf tournament and a tennis tournament, plans in place to renovate Anaheim Stadium, change the logo, change the colors, wade into Major League Soccer, get the Clippers to move.

In fact, if you add it all up, there can be only one conclusion.

Disney Sports Entertainment is trying to take over. With big mouse ears, it has listened to the sports pulse of America and knows what we crave--entertainment!

It's getting so that Disney people aren't going to be happy until we pledge allegiance to Donald Duck.

Come to think of it, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

This fall, when they start knocking down most of the pavilion seats at Anaheim Stadium, they might be able to jazz up the place a little bit. For instance, they could put a Pirates of the Caribbean ride out there too, even if the Pirates do play in the other league.

The stadium is going to be converted back into a baseball-only facility with seating of about 43,000 and is scheduled to be finished in time for the 1998 season.

Without going into too much detail, the redone Anaheim Stadium will have all the now-normal amenities: wall-to-wall luxury boxes, dugout suites, a stadium club, new seats and plenty of places to buy Angel caps, Angel jerseys, Angel bats and just about everything you can think of that has to do with the Angels short of a harp.

Until that time, Angel fans have been getting a preview of what to expect in the new place since Disney bought the team in May.

The Disney people are big on a buzzword called synergy, which means they want all their business interests to interconnect.

In other words, Disney movies lead to Disneyland, which leads to the Pond, which leads to Anaheim Stadium, which leads to the concession stands to buy your Angel hot dog while you wear your new Angel cap with the new logo.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Where the whole Disney Sports thing leads, is anybody's guess. But it probably would be smart not to underestimate the trend going on here.

You can bet the NFL isn't doing that. There is a Disney plan on the drawing board for a football stadium on the south side of Anaheim Stadium. Disney wants to hear from the NFL what the league plans to do with a potential team or two in the Los Angeles market.

Leaping ahead, what would a Disney-owned football team be called? The best idea would be to check the movie schedules to see if Disney is releasing a football movie any time soon.

In the meantime, there is plenty of exciting activity going on at Anaheim Stadium, even if most of it isn't on the baseball field. Disney has turned up the volume on the music, put cheerleaders and bands on the dugout roofs and shot off fireworks. There are no current plans to rename the basepaths Main Street, though.

In case you missed it, believe this: It's a new day in professional sports, in which ticket prices and player salaries rise more quickly than Donald Duck's blood pressure. The concept of entertainment isn't merely about movies and theme parks any more, but also about sports and how we look at them. That's the real synergy, right Pluto?

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