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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Basic Biitner: An Unusual Trade

Monday, February 27, 2006

As a lifelong sports fan, I am very familiar with player trades in all professional sports. In Major League Baseball, the "hot stove league" is the only thing that fuels our hunger for the National Pastime through the long Iowa winters.

THIS winter, however, an entirely new type of trade has occurred which is unprecedented. It doesn't involve any players at all, but rather a respected broadcaster, the Olympics, the Ryder Cup golf tournament, and a cartoon rabbit.

This trade took place because of the current state of the corporate world, in which a small number of very large corporations seem to own everything.

ABC and ESPN television networks are now owned by Disney Studios, for example, and NBC television is owned by Universal Studios (under the General Electric corporate umbrella).

Several decades ago, Universal produced a series of cartoon shorts featuring Oswald, the lucky rabbit. This character was created by none other than Walt Disney himself, but when Universal kept the rights to the character, Disney had to create a new character to replace Oswald. So he essentially chopped off Oswald's ears and called the new character Mickey Mouse. Ever heard of him?

Anyway, Disney Studios has apparently wanted the rights to the Oswald character back for years, and they now have them because ABC's lead announcer, 30-year veteran Al Michaels decided he wanted to stick with his Monday Night Football broadcasting team, including partner, John Madden, when it moves to the NBC Sunday Night telecast next season. The trade involves a lot of event - switching among ABC, ESPN and NBC, but I will try to summarize.

NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, who had been auditioning analyst Cris Collinsworth to become a play-by-play announcer to work games with Madden, heard in recent weeks that Michaels might be interested in getting out of his ESPN contract.

Ebersol said Disney made it clear it would not let Michaels out of his contract "without getting something from us." When Disney officials expressed interest in Oswald, says Ebersol, "I had no idea what that was." But the trade went through.

In exchange for letting Michaels out of his ABC/ESPN contract, NBC is granting ESPN the right to show far more Olympic TV highlights on its news shows than it has previously - beginning with the current winter Olympic games in Italy. ESPN is also getting NBC's cable TV rights to golf's next four Ryder Cups, and Disney gets the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back.

Says Disney CEO Robert Iger: "As the forerunner to Mickey Mouse and an important part of Walt Disney's creative legacy, the fun and mischievous Oswald is back where he belongs."

Michaels thinks it's cool. "I'm going to be the answer to a trivia question someday", he said.

I don't know. I still think ABC should have held out for a future draft choice and a camera operator to be named later.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner