Disney gets ducks in line with ABC

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Yesterday's mammoth marriage of the Walt Disney Co. and Capital Cities/ABC, a $19 billion union of two of the world's biggest conglomerates, is the kind of big-ticket event that doesn't just draw notice, but sits up and screams for attention.

Though most of the post-sale focus has been on the entertainment angle of the acquisition, Disney, which owns the Anaheim NHL franchise as well as 25 percent of the California Angels, may well be positioned to make a bigger splash in sports through ABC and ESPN, of which Cap Cities owns 80 percent.

"This is a blockbuster move," said Dantia Gould, who operates Gould Media Services, which analyzes sports media. "My expectation prior to this was that Disney would be one of the big movers in sports. I would think Disney will want to put its mark on sports the way it will want to put it on everything it has."

Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America" yesterday just after the sale was announced, Disney CEO Michael Eisner praised ABC and ESPN as being "very aggressive around the world," adding that "if anything benefits our companies commercially, it's the way we can come together with things like ESPN, the Disney Channel in China, India, Europe and the rest."

In the short term, the sale, which won't take effect until early next year, pending stockholder and regulatory approval, shouldn't have any immediate bearing on the operation of ABC Sports or ESPN.

But one would be naive not to imagine Disney attempting to spread its tentacles through sports broadcasting down the road. ABC, which through Cap Cities has been conservative in its recent acquisitions, now has the wherewithal and, most importantly, the corporate backing, to go get whatever it wants.

On the horizon are the rights for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia and the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, two high-profile events that Disney almost certainly will want to be a part of. What better way than to buy the television rights and parcel them to ABC on the broadcast side and ESPN, which can take the cable telecasts and distribute them all over the world?

And could there be a better fit than Major League Baseball, which desperately needs to be marketed properly, and Disney, the masters of manipulation? Even now, Mickey Mouse is being fitted for a pair of announcer's headphones.

Personnel moves

CNN's very talented and very amusing Vince Cellini has been given a major career boost by Turner, which has named him host of the company's NFL studio shows, TNT's one-hour "Pro Football Tonight" and CNN's one-hour "NFL Preview."

In addition, Cellini will take over as studio anchor for TBS' Wednesday night NBA coverage and will be host of "Inside the NBA" on TNT during the playoffs, while remaining on CNN's "Sports Tonight." Alas, a casualty of Cellini's rise is "Calling All Sports," his late-night talk show on CNN.

Also, ABC has announced that Curtis Strange will re-join the network next summer for coverage of the British Open, its only major golf tournament.

Returns in on Seles

Not a bad showing for the Monica Seles-Martina Navratilova exhibition match Saturday, which posted a 2.6 in the national overnight Nielsen ratings.

Saturday's NFL exhibition between Jacksonville and Carolina drew a 5.5 rating for ABC, but the tennis number gave the "CBS Sports Show" anthology program its highest rating since the program made its debut this spring.

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