Eisner view of sports is a little goofy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It didn't take long for Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, still basking in the glow of his company's breathtaking purchase of Capital Cities/ABC on Monday, to send a chill up the spine of every person who worries about the blurring of the line between sports and entertainment.

Eisner, in remarks to Larry King on his CNN talk show and to the Wall Street Journal, has left no doubt that he sees the company's new purchase, which includes an 80 percent stake of ESPN, as the video version of its amusement parks, or at least the sports end of it.

"I think entertainment and sports are related anyway," Eisner told King the other night. "The Disney company, through some of our Goofy cartoons and stuff, has always been sports-oriented, anything to get people out of the house and into a movie theater or a sports complex."

No doubt Emmy-award winning performers like Al Michaels and Chris Berman will be comforted to know that their future boss views them, their work and the people they cover as existing on the same level as a moronic cartoon dog.

Eisner wasn't finished. He went on to tell the Journal that there's an obvious "synergy" of melding ESPN and the Disney Channel through the world, saying that many places "like China, India. . . . that don't want to accept programming that has political content, but they have no problem with sports and they have no problem with Disney-type programming. The leverage of those two together in what used to be the Third World countries is enormous."

One of sports' major current hang-ups is that owners have stopped viewing their players as human beings and instead as giant marketing tools, one step above the costumed characters who wander places like Disney World. Eisner's words and Disney's big score take one more piece of humanity out of athletics.

Catch the Spirit

The Baltimore Spirit and WWLG (1360 AM) have hooked up on a new three-year broadcast deal, whereby the station will carry all of the team's NPSL indoor soccer games.

Gary Stein, the team's play-by-play voice last season, will continue in that role, as well as handle the pre-game and post-game shows.

Inside info on the Net

Want to feel like a bigwig and get the skinny on sports comings and goings? Well, ESPN and the Digital Sports Network have heard your request and launched a service just for you.

The two companies have created "Industry Insider," a new feature that premiered this week in the ESPNET SportsZone on the Internet.

"Industry Insider" promises its customers a look at sponsorship and endorsement news as well as profiles of personalities and quotes from movers and shakers and network personnel. It can be accessed through the SportsZone at http://ESPNET.SportsZone.com.

Rising racing ratings

CBS is still crowing about the ratings for its July 23 telecast of NASCAR's DieHard 500 stock car race, which drew a 4.8 rating and 14 share of the national audience on that day, just 1/10 of a point behind the final round of the British Open on ABC.

The network points out that had the Open not gone to a playoff the race would have beaten golf by half a rating point, or by nearly 500,000 viewers.

Apparently, then, there's something to all the hype about racing's meteoric boost in popularity, or so ABC, which carries this Saturday's Brickyard 400, hopes.

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