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Disney Hopes ‘Ducks’ Make a Splash in O.C.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

Eisner has expressed concern over the violent nature of the sport, that hockey contrasts with Disney’s image of promoting good, clean family fun. But while Tavares said the team will pursue players “with skill and speed” in June’s amateur and NHL expansion drafts, Anaheim won’t ignore the need for brute force on the ice.

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“Just because our name is ‘The Ducks,’ it doesn’t mean we’re going to be sissies,” Tavares said. “Disney and many teams have come down on the side of not having violence, but we’ll play the way other teams play and have the same sort of players everyone else does.

“If people think they’re going to push us all over the ice, that won’t be the case,” he said. “The Ducks will be mighty.”

Tavares admitted that he “begged” Eisner not to go with The Mighty Ducks as a team name, “but after seeing some of the promotions, it was fine,” he said. “When you cut through it, no one is going to refuse to play for us because of our name. I’m looking forward to playing the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Stanley Cup in the Bird Series.”

Fans shouldn’t expect Mighty Duck players to be hoisting Stanley Cups over their bills any time soon, but Tavares does expect Anaheim to be competitive in its inaugural season.

Anaheim will have one of the top five picks in an amateur draft that experts are calling the deepest and most talented in years and will benefit from liberal expansion draft guidelines, which allow current NHL teams to protect only one goalie.

“Our goal isn’t to be in the playoffs--it’s to be competitive every game,” Tavares said. “We don’t want to get our brains beat out. We don’t want to lose, 10-2, every night.”

The Mighty Ducks may not be a hit on the ice in 1993-94, but Eisner expects the team, with its merchandising connections and expected strong fan support, to be a financial success.

“I expect everything we do to be profitable in its first year,” Eisner said. “With the (lease) deal with the city and the arena, I think if we can control costs we’ll make money.”

Eisner made no attempt to hide the fact that Disney’s venture into hockey was part of a larger plan, which will result in more dollars flowing into Disney coffers and more Disney entities receiving more exposure.

“Hockey is great for the Disney Co.,” Eisner said. “It’s possible the Ducks will be on Channel 9 (Disney-owned KCAL-TV), we’ll have Duck merchandise in our Disney Stores, and hockey-related shows on the Disney Channel. And I’m sure there will be some Mighty Duck parades down Main Street in Disneyland after we win 39 games our first season.”

Win 39 games in the first season?

Eisner had better forget Main Street and schedule that parade for Fantasyland.

RELATED STORIES: A20, C1

The Mighty Ducks Become a Reality

In a Disneyland-like setting, professional hockey officially came to Anaheim Monday when Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael D. Eisner and National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the Mighty Ducks would debut in October.

Team name: The Mighty Ducks

Arena name: The Pond in Anaheim

Seating capacity: 17,350

First arena event: June 23, world figure skating champions tour

First Ducks home game: October, 1993

The executives: Jack Lindquist, chairman, Mighty Ducks / Tony Tavares, president, Disney Sports Enterprises

For season tickets: Call 1-800-HOCKEY4

Source: Walt Disney Co.


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