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Volume 21 No. 42
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Love of underdog draws Eisner to sports films

In the process of running two movie studios over the course of nearly three decades, Michael Eisner gave his OK to produce some of the most popular sports films to come out of Hollywood.


When he ran Paramount, the studio produced three “Bad News Bears” films. After moving to Disney, he produced “The Mighty Ducks,” “Cool Runnings” and “Angels in the Outfield,” averaging about one sports movie per year.

Eisner’s time leading both Disney and Paramount included several sports-related movies such as “The Bad News Bears” in 1976 and “The Mighty Ducks” in 1992.

“Every year we’d make a sports story,” Eisner said.

There was a reason he produced so many sports films, according to Bob Iger, Walt Disney Co.’s chairman and CEO. It’s because Eisner likes the storylines associated with sports programming — both live and scripted sports.

“Sports to him is storytelling in a different manner,” Iger said. “It’s not totally pre-planned, meaning that it’s not predictable, not scripted. But stories unfold right before your eyes, sometimes in the most surprising ways. One of the reasons he likes sports so much is that he loves the story side of sports.”

Eisner said he grew an appreciation of sports movies from his youth, citing films like “The Pride of the Yankees” and “Fear Strikes Out.” But it wasn’t until he was a young executive at ABC in the early ’70s that he saw the power of sports firsthand.

“I would have conversations with Roone Arledge about this quite a bit,” Eisner said of the sports TV pioneer. “In the programming department that I was involved in, you have to create the story and then you write the story and then you photograph the story. In sports, you don’t create the story, you don’t write the story, all you do is photograph the story. It’s a lot easier. In sports, the story is innate. It’s part of the game. If there is a great sports story, it’s already there and now you just have to execute it.”

Eisner moved on to run the Paramount movie studio in 1976, and it didn’t take him long to put his appreciation of sports films to work. In between producing megahits like “Saturday Night Fever,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Beverly Hills Cop,” he gave the green light to “The Bad News Bears.”

“The first one was Walter Matthau, which was great, and then we made two more,” he said.

Another reason Eisner was drawn to sports movies was because the storyline of underdogs overcoming the odds works with audiences. That theme was part of just about every sports movie Paramount and Disney made during his reign.

“I can’t think of one that isn’t,” he said. “It’s about teamwork. It’s about coming together. It’s about spirit. It’s emotional. And most of them are true. It’s a reconfirmation of the possible. There’s so much that’s not possible. In sports, it can happen to a sixth-grade team.”