The Russian Penguins didn’t last long—or win much—earning a record of 2-9 during the 1993-94 International Hockey League season. But the Russian ice hockey club is possessed of a crazy history, thanks in part to Howard Baldwin, the Hollywood movie producer behind Ray and then co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as Steve Warshaw, an oddball marketing guru. In 1993, Baldwin was on the hunt for other Western investors for the struggling Moscow-based outfit—which is where Disney enters the picture.
Filmmaker Gabe Polsky’s eye-opening documentary Red Penguins chronicles the dramatic rise and fall of the hockey team—a tale rife with gangsters, dirty money, and even live bears serving fans beer on the ice.
In this exclusive clip from Red Penguins, Baldwin and Warshaw recall their flirtation with Disney and its then CEO Michael Eisner, including his vision for a Mighty Ducks 5 wherein a female hockey player traveling to Russia and falling for a Russian male hockey star, Disney Imagineering mocking up logos for the team, and more.
“Eisner realized this is a great way to expand their brand into Russia,” recalls Warshaw in the documentary. “He said, ‘We’re looking at a $100 million licensing property here.’” (Eisner denies “having any relations" with the Russian Penguins team.)
“In this clip, we see how fascinated Michael Eisner became with the possibility of bringing Disney to Russia,” Polsky tells The Daily Beast. “After hearing about all the attention the venture between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Red Army Club was getting, Eisner wanted in. The deal between Disney and the Red Army Club almost happened… until the mafia arrived.”
Indeed, Eisner was a big hockey fan and had already created the Mighty Ducks NHL franchise, based on the 1992 movie of the same name. He was also interested in penetrating the post-Soviet Russian market.
“Eisner was interested in making a Mighty Ducks film in Russia and felt that this was a way to bring the Disney brand to Russia,” says Polsky. “Disney began to negotiate with the Red Army and slowly the deal collapsed because the Russians were skittish about Disney working with the Army (they didn’t trust it) and also the mafia was applying pressure and wanted to control the team. So the Russians never signed the deal.”
Red Penguins is available August 4th on VOD and digital.