Mice That Roar:Obsessive Fans Join Fight
(Sorry - the link didn't work - so here is the article in it's entirety. I thought it was interesting, because it's about Disney nuts - like us!)
Interesting Article on WSJ.Com
http://online.wsj.com/wsjgate?subURI=%2Farticle%2F0%2C%2CSB1078185243293 43526%2Demail%2C00%2Ehtml&nonsubURI=%2Farticle%5Fe mail%2F0%2C%2CSB107818524329343526%2DIVjfINllaN3np upZoKGaqeDm4%2C00%2Ehtml
Mice That Roar:
Obsessive Fans Join
Fight for Disney
Online Minutiae Lovers Dwell
On Big Stuff for Once;
Cobwebs Turn the Tide
By SARAH MCBRIDE
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
(See Corrections & Amplifications item below.)
In mid-January, self-described "Disney dweeb" Jim Hill was roused from an evening catnap by a surprise caller: Roy E. Disney, asking for Mr. Hill's advice on his effort to get Michael Eisner thrown out as Walt Disney Co.'s chairman and chief executive.
Mr. Hill, a New Hampshire writer who was sprawled on his sofa in sweatpants at the time, hardly seems like the kind of person corporate chieftains would track down late on a Friday night, except for one thing. He runs jimhillmedia.com, a Disney-obsessed site that dwells on both the big news and tiny tidbits affecting the entertainment company. A recent online debate: whether hats blowing off Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds ride pose a safety hazard.
For the past weeks, as they campaign to unseat Mr. Eisner, Mr. Disney and his business partner Stanley Gold have tried to tap into the wonderful world of Disney fanatics. With a hot boardroom battle under way at Disney, jimhillmedia.com had about 1.5 million viewers last week, up threefold from three months ago. "A little teeny Web site is suddenly drawing porn numbers," says Mr. Hill with pride.
Disney is a rare company, attracting thousands of people who care passionately about it. They visit Disney parks, watch Disney movies, dress in Disney costumes and spend countless hours thinking about the company. Dozens of Web sites cater to this group, which obsesses about every detail of the company. A recent article on miceage.com discusses reports that Mr. Eisner, after trying the new Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride at Disney's California Adventure park, pronounced it too short. It also reveals the real reason the teacups at the Mad Tea Party ride are now so hard to spin.
But unlike Trekkies or Deadheads, who are into Star Trek and the Grateful Dead, hardcore Disney fans own stock in the object of their devotion. Those stakes may be just a few shares apiece, but multiplied by thousands of fans across the county, they help make Disney one of the most widely held stocks on Main Street.
Winning over small shareholders "is paramount to our strategy," says a spokesman at Shamrock Holdings Inc., Mr. Disney's investment vehicle, which is spearheading the fight. At Disney, spokesman John Spelich says that "our strategy is to produce world-class product ... and that's one of the things our Disneyana faithful are happy to see." He says that in stressing creativity and financial performance, Disney is offsetting "the propaganda campaign that's being waged against the company."
If Messrs. Disney and Gold can mobilize this group as they campaign for shareholders to withhold support from Mr. Eisner at this week's Disney annual meeting, they could help win public sympathy -- and ballots. (See related article.) So Roy Disney, the nephew of the late Walt Disney, has been courting a number of popular Disney fan sites. He is the company's single largest shareholder and was a member of the board until his abrupt resignation in December.
What's more, hardcore Disney fans share many of Mr. Disney's complaints. Some of the Disney faithful have been down on the company for years, accusing current management of slacking off on everything from theme-park maintenance to movie quality.
Take Rich and Carol Koster, a New Orleans couple with 100 Disney shares and a Web site called disneyecho.emuck.com, who like to Disneyize words such as "premEAR" and "anonyMOUSEly." The Kosters say they have swung from staunch support of Mr. Eisner to a vigorous campaign for his ouster. The turning point, they say, came about 18 months ago when they noticed cobwebs on the Dumbo the Magic Elephant ride at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. That got them thinking about the state of the theme parks and the company in general.
Now, they are taking up Mr. Disney's cause. After visiting Mr. Disney's Web site, savedisney.com, they wrote letters to board members, outlining their disappointment with the company and explaining why they think Mr. Eisner should go. They raise the topic with friends. They read newspaper clippings, to make sure they are up to speed on new developments. And on their Web site, they urge shareholders to cast their votes with Mr. Disney. They have done that on their own, they say, without being approached by Mr. Disney or Shamrock.
In San Diego, Michelle Smith estimates she visits Disneyland 100 times a year. Until a few years ago when her career as a consultant and lecturer became more important, she says, she didn't leave her house unless she was wearing some piece of clothing with a Disney theme, particularly her dark blue varsity jacket with a picture of a growling Mickey Mouse emblazoned on the back. She teaches courses on Disney history at Learning Tree University in Chatsworth, Calif., and runs the Fabulousdisneybabe.com site. Lately, without being approached for help, she has been volunteering for savedisney.com in her spare time.
Her duties there include "mail blasting" a letter seeking support to groups ranging from the National Endowment for the Arts to Animation World News, an animation fan site. The letter, a copy of which sits on her Web site, is signed "Merlin Jones," the title character from a 1963 Disney movie about the misadventures of a gifted teenager.
Ms. Smith also happens to be Jim Hill's ex-wife. The couple met at the Wishing Well at Disneyland while attending a gathering for Disney memorabilia collectors and later married at Disney's Beach Club in Orlando, Fla. Their daughter was born at an Orlando hospital with a scale model of Disney's Cinderella Castle in the lobby. The marriage didn't work out, but Mr. Hill, undaunted, met his current fiancee at a meeting of Mouseclub East, another Disneyana group.
Mr. Hill was flattered by Mr. Disney's phone call in January, a few weeks after his abrupt resignation from the Disney board. Mr. Hill says the conversation began with Mr. Disney asking, "What can we do for you?" His reply: "Roy, you're already doing it."
Mr. Disney eventually asked him for advice on how to garner favorable publicity and reach small shareholders. At the time, the Disney company had just announced the closing of its animation studio in Orlando, cutting 258 jobs.
"Why don't you get a busload of those animators up to Philadelphia?" the site of Disney's March 3 annual meeting, Mr. Hill suggested. Mr. Hill recalled a 1940s demonstration when Disney animators picketed the studio with signs bearing hand-drawn Disney characters. "Consider it pitched," Mr. Disney responded. But the idea later was nixed. Someone close to Mr. Disney confirms that the phone call took place. The person didn't know many details of the call but said Mr. Disney did not seriously consider the picket idea.
Though Mr. Eisner hasn't enjoyed much visible public support in the past few weeks, a small grass-roots effort has sprung up to support the embattled CEO. A couple of weeks ago, Gary Nowak, a TV-commercial producer based in Bakersfield, Calif., launched savemichaeleisner.com. "Somebody needs to show the other side of the coin," he says. Other than an annual pass to Disneyland for his family, Mr. Nowak says he has no connection to the company and has never met Mr. Eisner.
Indeed, Mr. Nowak isn't motivated so much by his love of Disney as he is by his hatred of cable companies, which he says have poor customer service and high prices. He sprang into action after Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, made an unsolicited all-stock offer to acquire Disney.
Mr. Nowak's site portrays an overpriced Disneyland of the future overrun by cable-themed rides. "Who is going to pay for the massive cable infrastructure that continually needs to be upgraded and replaced?" he asks. "It will be YOU, standing in line to ride Comcast Cody's Tilt-O-Whirl."
Write to Sarah McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org
Corrections & Amplifications:
Walt Disney Co. faces a campaign by dissident ex-directors to withhold votes from Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Eisner and three other board members at Wednesday's annual meeting in Philadelphia. The headline in an earlier version of the story said the company is in a proxy fight.
Updated March 2, 2004