Sports Business Journal announced Monday that they’re giving a lifetime achievement award to Michael Eisner, the former Disney chairman and Paramount president and current co-owner of Topps and owner of England’s Portsmouth FC. And their piece on Eisner, from SBJ’s John Ourand, is just full of incredible anecdotes about his passion for sports, especially during the era where Disney owned the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now just the Anaheim Ducks; Disney founded them in 1993 and sold them in 2005) and the California/Anaheim Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels; Disney bought them in 1996, renamed them to Anaheim, and sold them in 2003).
Current Disney CEO/then-ABC president/Disney International president/Disney COO Bob Iger, on late 90s Disney meetings with all of Eisner’s key direct reports:
“And he wanted to talk about potential trades the Angels were considering. Michael is a consummate creative executive. He is driven by great creativity and storytelling. He has a passion for it. Nothing really seems to excite him more than that in business.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, on how Eisner got him to join a group blowing duck calls at the Ducks’ official announcement:
“To this day, people talk to me about that picture. I can’t remember exactly how he got me to do that.”
MLB commissioner/then executive vice-president of economics and league affairs Rob Manfred, on Eisner showing up to his first owners’ meeting dressed in full Angels’ gear:
“That was probably one of the all-time great entrances into an owners’ meeting. He marched in, in his Anaheim jacket, and took hold of the room with his excitement and presence in terms of joining the group.”
Former ESPN president George Bodenheimer, on making special arrangements so Eisner could watch a Ducks’ game from Prague in 1998:
“I remember spending half a day with Russell Wolff in international and Chuck Pagano, our engineer. We were trying to figure out where he was and how we could get a satellite feed to him so that he could watch his Ducks game in a hotel in Prague. I believe we succeeded.”
That’s all just amazing. And while some of it may not be the best use of time for everyone involved (can you imagine having the president of ESPN spend half a day trying to get you a personalized satellite feed of a game? Or starting key Disney meetings with discussions of potential Angels’ trades?), it certainly makes for great stories, and shows off Eisner’s passion for the teams he was involved with.
And Eisner made some pretty smart moves on the sports front, too. That piece illustrates how he helped launch Monday Night Football on ABC in 1970, how he resisted calls to dump it in 1995 despite pressure from ABC executives (and thanks to Bodenheimer telling him that it could led to ESPN getting the second half of Sunday Night Football‘s schedule, and boosting subscriber fees dramatically as a result), and why he thought ESPN was the crucial component in the 1995 deal to buy Capital Cities and ABC (something that’s definitely held up).
The Angels’ and Ducks’ deals also were key stepping stones in the kind of cross-franchise cross-promotion we regularly see from Disney and ESPN today, especially considering their tie-ins to movies and cartoons (and the then-usage of those movies and cartoons at games and in promotions). And Eisner’s certainly made a major impact on the sports landscape, and that’s true in both meaningful deals and in funny stories. But the funny stories here particularly stand out.