I love sports and I love Disney. The fact that sports and Disney combined to bring what has become my favorite character back to Disney was such a fun story, that I like to tell it whenever that lucky rabbit comes up. By now, we all know the story of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, the precursor to Mickey, and how Walt lost the rights to his creation to Universal through unscrupulous back door dealings by Charles Mintz. Walt lost Oswald, Mickey was then born, and the rest is history, but Oswald has remained an important part of the Disney legacy. Then CEO Bob Iger knew this and wanted to figure out a way to have this rabbit back where he belonged.
Iger found a way through a football announcer of all things. Back in 2006, ESPN (owned by Disney) had gained the rights to Monday Night Football, while NBC (owned by Universal) had acquired the Sunday Night Football rights. Then ESPN president, George Bodenheimer learned that broadcaster Al Michaels wanted to get out of his ABC (owned by Disney) contract so he could join the NBC Sunday Night Football team. CEO Bob Iger then called Bodenheimer and said he’d let Michaels go to NBC if Bodenheimer could get Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back to Disney. Of course, Bodenheimer was very confused by the request and said: “Who or what is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit?” Iger explained the legacy and history of Oswald and how important it was to have him back at Disney, and that started the ball rolling.
Bodenheimer then called NBC Chairman of Sports, Dick Ebersol to discuss this unusual trade request. He explained who Oswald was to Ebersol, and within a week, Ebersol had discussed with Universal and paperwork was drawn up to complete one of the most bizarre trades in history. And Oswald was back!
On February 9, 2006, the Walt Disney Company issued a press release announcing Oswald’s return. Upon his return Iger said: “I wanted to complete Walt’s mission. I knew there was an empty spot in his heart since Oswald left….“There was something about bringing Oswald back that seemed right. So the move was meant to do something that was positive for Disney’s culture and to tap into that legacy.” It’s clear Bob Iger knew how important it was to have this character back in the fold. Seeing Oswald ears, shirts, and his tribute at the entrance of Disney California Adventure ensures that generations to come will know about the rabbit that started it all.