The Mighty Ducks' opening-night extravaganza Friday at the Anaheim Arena is going to be just that--extravagant.
With a price tag sources say is higher than $450,000--more expensive than the halftime shows at many New Year's Day bowl games--the 15-minute Disney theatrical production will be punctuated by dazzling indoor fireworks, a flying entrance by the team's new mascot and a grand finale with 100 costumed and uniformed skaters on the ice.
The budget for the show, which will push the opening faceoff between the Ducks and the Detroit Red Wings from 7:35 p.m. to about 8:05 p.m., was spiraling toward half a million dollars before Disney and club officials reined it in.
"We're spending unreasonably on opening night to show our local fans" there will be more entertainment than a hockey game alone, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael D. Eisner said.
The team's inaugural will cost more than 4 1/2 times what the San Jose Sharks say they spent on their high-tech laser show when they joined the National Hockey League in 1991. And it is almost half the approximately $1 million spent on recent Super Bowl halftime extravaganzas such as the one starring Michael Jackson last January in Pasadena.
Officials at Tampa Bay and Ottawa staged their own laser-laced ice shows last year when they entered the league, but Ottawa producer Randy Burgess said "hundreds of thousands would seem like a lot." Gerry Helper, Tampa Bay vice president for communications, said: "That is a ton. That is a huge show. That's unbelievable."
As lavish as it seems, it doesn't hold a candle--or, as they say at Disney, a Lumiere --to the most extraordinary celebration in sports, an Olympic opening ceremony. The opening of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles cost about $10 million, and the 1992 Barcelona send-off cost $20 million.
"We're trying to make it a unique experience," said Conwell Worthington, a producer with Disneyland Entertainment who has been working on the concept since May.
Neither Worthington nor Tony Tavares, president of Disney Sports Enterprises, would discuss the total cost, but Tavares said the bill includes a permanent $150,000 theatrical lighting system.
"It's a very expensive production," Tavares said. "When you see it, you'll understand. It's very theatrical. You just don't go out and decide to put a show on like this and not have cost."
The sold-out game is already a hot ticket, with Orange County brokers quoting prices of up to $250 for $50 seats in the lower level and as much as $150 for upper-level seats. The least expensive ticket being offered by one broker was priced at $65--for a face value of less than $20.
The unique combination of Disney's entertainment glitz and a professional sports team's debut is drawing an unusual media crowd--from the New York Times and Canada's Edmonton Journal to AdWeek, Daily Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and People Magazine.
Among the celebrities rumored to be coming are actress Michelle Pfeiffer and actor Emilio Estevez, who played the coach in the kids' movie "The Mighty Ducks," which spawned the NHL team's name.
Eisner is throwing a party, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is bringing a group of 150 league personnel and sponsors to a show Bettman says he would not want to miss.
Disney has been typically tight-lipped about its plans, but with three weeks of rehearsal, a cast that includes 50 local youth hockey players and approval required from various authorities--including the Anaheim Fire Department--details have leaked out.
Plans call for the show to begin with a dark house and a spotlight at center ice on Lumiere, the friendly candelabra cartoon character from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."
Mickey Mouse seems to have been all but banned from the arena--perhaps in an attempt to limit jokes referring to the Ducks as a Mickey Mouse team.
"I think Mickey and Donald have prior commitments on opening night," Tavares said. "I haven't checked their calendars, but they aren't going to be around. We have our own mascot and our own identity. We don't want to clutter. As esteemed as Mickey and Donald are over at Disneyland, we think they have their place, and we have ours."
The opening song is also borrowed from "Beauty and the Beast," Eisner said, but is a rock adaptation of the "Be Our Guest" tune, complete with new lyrics suitable to hockey.
Among the stars of the production are some who will continue to perform throughout the season, such as the "Decoys," a team of women skaters; the still-unveiled mascot, who will fly in on theatrical rigging like Peter Pan; and a character who will emerge from a vehicle and play a portable keyboard.
Other things that will probably be introduced are Disney-animated scoreboard videos, participation gimmicks designed to encourage fans to purchase $10 Duck calls and special effects to accompany Duck goals (though with an expansion team, these might not get much of a workout).
"All you're getting is a siren right now," Tavares said. "As the saying goes, 'You ain't seen nothin' yet.' "
The pyrotechnic effects--some taken from the playbook of Fantasmic, Disneyland's innovative nighttime show--should be one of the highlights.
Janet Baylor, deputy fire marshal for the city of Anaheim, had to give approval for the elaborate displays, and after attending a test session Monday night, she named herself one of four Fire Department inspectors who will be on hand.
"I pulled rank on this one; I'm working," she said after seeing some of the effects Disney has planned. Among the early plans were devices ringing the rink that will shoot sparks 15 to 20 feet over the ice, as well as a pyrotechnic hockey stick and banners--not to mention basic overhead sparkles.
Baylor said that while "any pyrotechnics are dangerous," Disney is very experienced and the department is concerned mostly with smoke ventilation and making sure the fire detectors aren't tripped. One of her main concerns is debris from the pyrotechnics on the ice.
That leads to a minor matter that isn't so minor to the team that is being celebrated: the ice surface.
"There's no way around avoiding the potential for bad ice in the game because of the ceremonies," said Coach Ron Wilson, who has been distressed by the quality of the Anaheim Arena's ice since the opening of training camp.
Suffice it to say that the idea of 100 skaters, many of them on figure skates, taking chunks out of the ice isn't soothing to the Ducks.
"Anytime you put figure skates in a combination with hockey, you've got to be concerned about the ice," Tavares said. "We've taken the proper precautions by controlling the types of skating," he said, which means limiting jumps that damage the surface.
Still, they won't drop the puck for the game between the Ducks and the Red Wings immediately after the show ends. Instead, two Zamboni machines will resurface the ice for what once was considered the main event.
But is it? Consider this: The extravaganza's price tag is mere Walt Disney Co. pocket change away from the average annual salary among NHL players last season--$463,000.
After a few games, maybe they'll wish they had the extra player.