Sunday, 8 July 2018

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: MICHAEL EISNER AND PORTSMOUTH F.C.


75. “When I passed through the Fratton Park turnstiles I felt like I did when I stepped through the doors at Disney - a sense of excitement and of a rich history.”



08/07/2018




I normally have no interest in football, mainly due to the amount of attention it already demands, but the form of England in this year’s World Cup, reaching its first semi final since 1990, has meant even I have needed to take notice. If the current performance of our team pays out in tourism and culture in the UK, then that’s fine, but I will only even learn the offside rule against my will.

So, why would I talk about football when I should be talking about film? It is because that, when I usually think of football, the first thing is the unexpected turn of events closer to home, when Portsmouth Football Club was bought by Michael Eisner. It is more accurate to say it was The Tornante Company, named by Eisner after the Italian term for a hairpin bend in a road, that bought Pompey for £5.67 million last year, but Eisner’s signature is the company’s logo.

The primary result of this news was that I began to watch “BoJack Horseman,” made by Tornante’s TV division. It is strange to see, on Tornante’s website, the Pompey crest listed on the same line as BoJack’s head, and next to the Topps trading card company, also the makers of Ring Pops.


Because Eisner is primarily known as a businessman, even if it was The Walt Disney Company for which he was in charge, this was how his takeover of Pompey was viewed. The club had been through a succession of unscrupulous owners before being put into bankruptcy protection in 2010, while also falling three football divisions within five years. The club only survived when members Pompey Supporters Trust paid £1,000 a head to take ownership, so for anyone to literally take the club away from the fans can only be painted in a bad light.

However, Eisner’s promise of continuity and further £10 million investment sealed the deal, meaning he will still be spending far less than on “BoJack Horseman,” although the value of a football club is usually measured in goodwill, along with fixtures and fittings.


However, the inevitable fears of a “Disneyfication” have been unfounded – in fact, it may benefit from that kind of rigorous work. Eisner’s tenure at Disney leavened its princesses with a great deal of sport, not least in its taking over of the TV networks ESPN and ABC, where Eisner helped to place American football in primetime: the “Mighty Ducks” series of ice hockey films led to Disney creating a real-life team in 1993, although they would not win the Stanley Cup until the year after they were sold, and the baseball film “Angels in the Outfield” led to Disney buying the California Angels team, itself originally founded by the country music singer Gene Autry. A literal quote from Eisner upon completing the Pompey deal was: “All of Disney's sports films had the same theme - the triumph of the underdog. With Portsmouth we hope to get it right in fact, not fiction. We will get there - being slow, steady and smart.”

So, Eisner’s taking control of Portsmouth F.C. is not like the Ark of the Covenant being left in a warehouse – I only make this reference because Eisner was CEO of Paramount Pictures at the time of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” as well as “Grease,” “Saturday Night Fever,” and the start of the “Star Trek” franchise. He may not be the one writing and directing these films, but he knows how to pick a hit.

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