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Disney Setting a Mousetrap to Lure Buyers to Its Castoffs

Internet: The media giant is finding a sizable consumer base for sales of items big and small via online auctions.

May 30, 2001|MEG JAMES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dazzled by the big bucks people are paying for old props, Mickey Mouse memorabilia and other campy castoffs, Walt Disney Co. has firmly planted an online garage sale sign.

Since October, Disney has been hawking everything from movie premiere passes and studio tours to snow globes on Internet auction site EBay. Disney dusted off a teapot float from the old Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade and even threw in Minnie Mouse's kitchen sink.

A Disneyland marquee sign from the park's entrance went for $30,700. Although some didn't sell, one Cruella De Vil costume worn by Glenn Close in "102 Dalmatians" fetched nearly $5,000. A dog's wedding dress seen on Barbara Walters' ABC TV show "The View" pulled in $800.

Monday, a bidder pledged $2,425 for lunch with Don Hahn, the producer of Disney's upcoming animated feature, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," and a tour of the animation studio.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 27, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
EBay bids--A May 30 story in the Business section incorrectly identified a type of seat that sold last year on the Internet auction site EBay. A panelist's seat on the television program "Politically Incorrect" went for $47,000.

Such prices are sending studio workers scurrying to find more props and merchandise to sell.

Its rabid fans and the mystique of its brand make Disney kitsch a hot commodity in the world of online flea markets. Some are private collectors, while others are gathering items for resale. Actor John Stamos bought the Disneyland sign.

Although rival studio executives concede that Disney has an edge, Warner Bros. and others are trying to move in. They join Sun Microsystems Inc., Ritz Camera and other companies that are selling used items online.

"More and more companies are sniffing around to see whether they fit in with that whole online auction culture," said Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Jared Blank. "It's not quite a trend yet. But for some companies, it's a great way to get rid of excess inventory."

The enterprise is a small part of Disney's worldwide operations, but any windfall is welcome in a year when Chief Executive Michael Eisner is ordering salary cuts and the elimination of 4,000 jobs.

Disney officials won't say how much money they have made, or how much merchandise they have moved. In the company's most recent annual report, online auctions are described as "a significant new component of Disney's Internet business."

For Disney and other Hollywood studios, the auctions started as a publicity stunt--a way to get a newly released movie or the company's name in front of the 3 million shoppers who troll the online listings each day.

20th Century Fox hit the mother lode last year when a Wilson volleyball that was used in last year's film "Castaway" with Tom Hanks went for $18,400 on Yahoo's auction site.

"It was an amazing amount of money," said Jeffrey Godsick, the studio's executive vice president for publicity and promotion. "It's really a good marketing tool. The sale of 'Wilson the Volleyball' for $18,000 became a great news story that played everywhere."

Fox auctioned off several "X-Men" costumes for about $20,000 apiece, and the studio donated some of the money to charity. Fox opens its auctions six weeks before a movie's release, for maximum buzz value, and is planning to sell items tied to the July release of "Planet of the Apes."

"This allows moviegoers to buy a piece of something they love," Godsick said. "A lot of the items you're not going to use again and this is better than selling them to a costume house."

Warner Bros., which is working to expand its presence on EBay, last summer auctioned off the 93-ton fishing boat from the movie "The Perfect Storm." The boat sold for nearly $150,000, and Warner Bros. donated some of the proceeds to a Maine fishing charity.

Disney will donate to charity a portion of the money raised in an auction of seats for next month's New York premiere of "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." The seats went for a total of $1,525, with seats at the Los Angeles premiere selling for $1,370. A tour of the company's animation research library hauled in $5,600.

But much of the stuff that Disney sells is small--stuffed animals, toy pianos, captain hats and Winnie the Pooh watches. Disney memorabilia, which come with certificates of authenticity from the company, have been the most popular.

EBay auctions have helped Disney feed the voracious appetites of a cadre of collectible hounds. Nearly 600 auctions have been won by a group of 25 people, with one person winning 92 auctions. Die-hard Disney fans often drive the bidding to stratospheric levels.

For example, an old Dumbo ride car from Disney World reeled in $9,000. Fiberglas Peter Pan characters used as window decorations at the Disney Store in Costa Mesa brought $6,500. A Winnie the Pooh stove and refrigerator went for $4,500.

Movie items also are wildly popular. The Porsche from the Disney movie "The Kid" went for $77,100--the highest priced item sold on Disney's EBay site.

Disney also dragged out of storage a table and chairs that appeared in the 1964 movie "Mary Poppins." The set sold for $4,100. An armoire from the movie set went for $3,700.

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