Al Michaels has been the preeminent face of NFL sportscasting for over 30 years, including hosting ABC’s Monday Night Football for 26 years. In his time as a sports commentator, he has become quite familiar with trades. Players get traded for players, or draft picks, or financial considerations, or in rare cases even a coach. But you can bet he never thought he himself would be involved in a trade for, of all things, an animated character.
That’s exactly what happened to Michaels seven years ago. Here’s how it all went down:
ABC is owned by Disney as many of you are well aware. A few years back, Disney bought ESPN as well. Seven years ago there was a shuffling of NFL programming which was occurring. MNF was to move to ESPN while NBC got back into the NFL game taking over Sunday Night Football.
Al Michaels and his announcing partner, John Madden, both were not keen on the idea of the MNF move from network television to cable and they wanted out. Madden, who had been with the network since 2002, was allowed to leave without issue. Michaels situation was not so easy. He had a contract to honor.
Disney would not press Michaels to honor his contract… on one condition -- They wanted Oswald.
The concept that Disney would have to acquire the rights to Oswald seems odd. After all, the lucky rabbit was one of the first cartoon characters Walt Disney ever created. He came well before every one of the beloved Disney character we associate them with today. This includes the most iconic of them all – Mickey Mouse.
It isn’t really that complicated. In short, this is how it happened:
Oswald was created by Walt Disney and animator Ub Iwerks in 1927 when Walt worked for Universal Studios. At that time, cartoons ran before every movie in the theater – most without sound. The character was an instant success and just a year later Walt’s bosses at Universal got the idea that with them owning the right to Oswald, they could leverage the popular character against Disney to strong arm him into taking a pay cut.
Walt Disney wasn't having it. He and Iwerks left Universal and Oswald behind and Disney founded his own studio. His first character was one Mickey Mouse and the animated classic, Steamboat Willie. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Universal kept making cartoons featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for 16 years until his retirement in 1943. He remained retired for over 60 years right up until the moment Universal sister company NBC wanted something from Disney's subsidiary, ABC. They wanted Al Michaels. In exchange all Disney wanted was a cartoon character who hadn’t seen the light of day for over 62 years. Universal, of course, agreed.
Now, six years later, Al Michaels has been the primary face of NBC Sunday Night Football. Meanwhile, after nearly 80 years away from his creator, Disney has made Oswald a star once again with audiences embracing the likable little rabbit as they did nearly in his heyday.
The new billion dollar renovation of Disney California Adventure completed last year. The front of the park is made-up like early 20th century Los Angeles which offers Oswald a central role in the time he was originally a star. He has his own shop just inside the gates of DCA as well as merchandise in every shop in the park as well as Disneyland.
He also became a character in the popular Disney video game “Epic Mickey” where, for the first time ever, he speaks.
That seems like a more than fair trade to me. One that should have Al Michaels feeling pretty special.