Disney Buys Creative Rights to Pioneer Pete

Critics say University of Wisconsin-Platteville students are “total sellouts.”

Huck L. Berry graphic

Huck L. Berry graphic

Since the acquisition of Marvel Studios production company by Disney in 2009, Disney has grown exponentially over the past decade. Among its other acquisitions since Marvel, Disney has purchased the rights to Lucas Film (Star Wars), 21st Century Fox and Hulu, among others. This has caused the value of the company and its subsidiaries to skyrocket and concern is growing about the influence of Disney and other large media companies over competition. 

This spike in large acquisitions by Disney has not slowed in 2019. On March 14, the worldwide media company bought the creative rights to University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s official mascot, Pioneer Pete. The rights to the character, its trademarks and all of its artistic representations were purchased by Disney for $6.9 million. 

The deal, finalized and presented to the university by Disney CEO Bob Iger, included an agreement that the likeness of Pioneer Pete will still be allowed to cheer on the Pioneers at sporting events and on campus, but any fan memorabilia sold containing Pete’s likeness will need to be approved by the Disney marketing division, and 40% of the profits from those items will go to Disney. The student radio, WSUP 90.5FM will also be transitioned into a full-time Radio Disney subsidiary over the next three years. 

UW-Platteville didn’t seem to mind these conditions though, since just being associated with the Disney name is an invaluable tool for publicity and will give the university potentially global exposure in the future. The university leadership has released a statement that this is the first stage of a new “phase” in the growth of the organization which may open more possibilities in the future for crossing over into the lucrative world of merchandising and, potentially, additional licensing deals. 

On the subject, an unnamed UW-Platteville Board of Directors’ member said that “[Venturing into the private sector] is a move that will get a lot of criticism from proponents of public education, but we’ve been struggling lately. I’m not allowed to share numbers, but it’s not been great. We’re doing this for the kids, not for the money. This isn’t us selling out, we’re just adapting to the market.”

The news that Disney was looking to acquire the rights for iconic as well as little-known university mascots was at first very baffling to, well…everyone. Disney started by buying the rights to “Bucky” from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan State’s “Sparty”, “The Duck” from the University of Oregon, “WuShock” from Wichita State and various other well-known mascots from large state schools.

After months of speculation as to the purpose of these acquisitions, as well as some very cryptic marketing from Disney, the company finally announced in February that there was a new series based on the lives and conflicts between various university mascots. The series will be a mixture of live-action film and motion-capture enhanced 3D animation. 

According to Disney, the show will be “a gritty and thought-provoking look into the lives of [the] characters…Game of Thrones but with absurdist anthropomorphic animals.” 

Not much else is known about the series called “Shadow Masters: Rise of the Shadow Fighter.” The series will launch in mid-2019 as the first original show of the official Disney streaming service, which will be released at the same time. 

In the show, Pete will be part of “The Marauders”, a group of other lesser-known mascots trying to make a name for themselves in their fictional world. Other “Marauders” are rumored to be such mascots as “Sammy”, the banana slug from University of California-Santa Cruz, and “The Fighting Okra” from Delta State University.

The news of Pete’s future as a celebrity has excited many students here on the UW-Platteville campus, but it also has had some vocal detractors. 

“This is a disgraceful move by the school administration. A shameless cash grab. Me and many other students see this as a loss of integrity on the part of the university, and we can’t trust them to act in our best interests anymore,” student senate representative Joffrey Kampmann said. “I mean, this is [expletive] Disney, they own everything! They don’t own us though.” 

Kampmann has collected a petition with signatures from over 800 students for the university administration to retract the Disney deal. Many students, however, are intrigued with the move and look forward to seeing what their mascot will do on-screen.