It was really a contract deal. A football announcer for a cartoon. It’s described in a book written by George Bodenheimer titled Every Town is a Sports Town.
ESPN had acquired the rights to Monday Night Football and wanted to assemble an announcing team. At the time, John Madden and Al Michaels were the announcers. Madden’s contract was up and he decided to join NBC to call Sunday Night Football. Al Michaels wanted to join him and get out of his contract for Monday Night.
ESPN tells it this way: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was created in 1927 by Walt Disney for Charles B. Mintz, and distributed by Universal Studios. Disney directed 26 Oswald cartoons before a budget dispute with Mintz forced Disney to leave and create his own studio. Mintz, however, owned the rights to Oswald, and kept the character.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was Walt Disney’s initial character that ultimately led to the idea of Mickey Mouse. He had lost the rights to the character when he formed his own studio. Oswald does look a bit like Mickey Mouse, who Disney used as his primary character for his new studio. As a side note, Mintz was the creator of another character … Woody Woodpecker.
That’s why Disney, who owned ABC, still put a value on Oswald as a precursor to Mickey Mouse even though “he” had no commercial value. It was Disney’s and ABC’s pure historical sentimental value.
Without getting into too many crazy details, when Michaels wanted out of his ABC contract to go work with Madden; on February 9, 2006, NBC confirmed that Michaels would be joining Madden at the network to broadcast football on Sunday nights.
In return, Disney received the rights to Owald. So, for some other programming considerations and a cartoon, Michaels was allowed out of his Monday Night broadcasting contract with ABC. To this day, he remains a broadcaster on Sunday… and none of us still know about Oswald the Rabbit except for this trade. A cartoon character for an announcer.
And for pic o’ day, here’s another character!