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Goo Goo Team! Eisner to Sell Tykes on College Sports

Times Staff Writer

Former Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner knows a thing or two about captivating children with cartoon characters. Now he is hoping to hook kids on college sports -- even before they walk or talk.

Eisner’s new entertainment business, Tornante Co., plans to announce today the purchase of Team Baby Entertainment, a start-up company that makes college-sports booster videos aimed at children ages 6 months to 5 years.

The 30-minute videos, each featuring a different university, shows children in football jerseys and cheerleading outfits running, dancing and playing to the school’s fight song. Among the 20 produced so far, there is “Baby Irish” for Notre Dame, “Baby Aggie” for Texas A&M; and “Baby Cowboy” for Oklahoma State.

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Although there are scores of child-friendly educational videos, such as the “Baby Einstein” series and “Sesame Street,” apparently not much was available for parents eager to get their kids excited about their alma maters.

Team Baby’s 32-year-old founder, Greg Scheinman, was one of those parents. He wanted to share his love of the University of Michigan’s football and basketball traditions with his then 1-year-old son, Auden.

Finding nothing (and living in Texas), Scheinman decided to make a 30-minute video, called “Baby Longhorn,” which stars Auden and introduces young viewers to the University of Texas’ sports teams, mascot and campus.

One year later, Scheinman said, Auden could recognize the Michigan Wolverines and could do the Texas “Hook ‘em Horns” sign.

In addition to the dressed-up toddlers, each video gives a child-friendly glimpse of that particular school’s campus, mascot and marching-band antics.

In one year, the company has sold 35,000 units at $19.95 retail, Scheinman said. They are sold through the company’s website as well as stores including Learning Express.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Eisner holds full ownership and Scheinman will remain CEO.

Eisner was unavailable for an interview but provided a statement: “Team Baby’s products are unique in the marketplace for preschool videos in that they introduce a child to its parents’ favorite athletic teams while also promoting the idea of sports and teamwork.”

The Team Baby acquisition is part of a broader effort by Eisner’s new company to acquire media and entertainment content. In April, Tornante, together with Spark Capital, Shelter Capital Partners and Time Warner Inc., announced a $12.5-million investment in Veoh Networks Inc., a San Diego-based company that delivers video and television programming over the Internet. Eisner is on the board of directors.

Eisner also began hosting his own talk show, CNBC’s “Conversations With Michael Eisner,” in March. The show has featured an eclectic mix of guests, including Eisner’s successor at Disney, Robert Iger, and televangelist Pat Robertson, who drew 68,000 viewers last Tuesday, the smallest audience for the show so far.

Eisner’s decision to purchase Team Baby surprised even Scheinman, who lives in Houston and started his company with a $200,000 investment in April of last year.

Scheinman said he and Eisner bonded over their New York roots, their fondness for summer camp (Eisner published a memoir about his camp experiences), and their bicycle tours through the Bordeaux region of France.

“We hit it off right away,” said Scheinman, noting that Eisner drove his own rental car and arrived without an entourage. “He is very gifted at making you feel comfortable.”

As the company’s owner, Eisner will give Team Baby access to cash and entertainment-industry contacts to help it grow, Scheinman said.

Eisner, who retired from Disney last fall, presided over its transformation from a struggling company worth $1.6 billion into a nearly $32-billion global empire with 10 theme parks, the ABC television network and cable channels including ESPN.

The former executive has been circumspect about his new ventures -- other than to name his company Tornante, which he picked up on a bicycle tour of Italy and means a change in direction.

Eisner, a graduate of Denison University in Ohio, holds season tickets to L.A. Clippers games and is a big fan of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, according to Scheinman.

Scheinman said he was optimistic that Team Baby would strike a chord with parents. “It’s a really good business,” he said. “We want to put out really fun, heartwarming, educational interactive product.”


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