Louise Argianas, director of rights and clearances for ABC Sports.
The struggling Pawlenty campaign launched “The American Comeback,” a television commercial with a down-but-not-out theme, in Iowa on Wednesday.
The 30-second spot uses TV footage from the so-called “Miracle on Ice,” the hockey game in which the U.S. team beat the supposedly invincible Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Argianas said in a telephone interview that ABC Sports retains exclusive U.S. rights to that footage. She said she was upset when she saw Pawlenty’s ad for the first time this afternoon.
“And they used our announcer’s voice, which they are not allowed to do, either,” she said, referring to play-by-play announcer Al Michaels. “Which I’m going to have to call his agent about.”
Argianas initially said she intended to have a lawyer send the cease-and-desist letter Friday. But tonight, officials at ESPN, which oversees ABC Sports, walked back that statement saying that, after a larger conversation, they’re undecided about whether to send such a letter.
ESPN spokesman Chris LaPlaca said: “Neither ABC nor ESPN has asked the Pawlenty campaign to remove any footage from their video, although neither ABC nor ESPN licensed the video to them or authorized its use.”
Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant defended the use of the footage, part of a much-revered piece of sports history.
“The campaign’s ‘Miracle on Ice’ advertisement was carefully reviewed for legal compliance, and we believe fully complies with the ‘fair use’ doctrine,” Conant said. “We respect ABC’s concern and look forward to responding to their inquiry.”
The rest of the ad features Pawlenty, who played high school hockey and still dabbles at an amateur level, in an ice arena in his hometown of South St. Paul. He talks about the country’s need for a leader with a proven record.
Three weeks out from the potentially make-or-break Republican straw poll in Ames on Aug. 13, Pawlenty is doing an 18-city “Road to Results” campaign tour in Iowa this week, aiming to rally support. He also has scheduled more Iowa events next week.
The political establishment and pundits have long considered Pawlenty a serious and well-qualified candidate to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama.
But Michele Bachmann, a fellow Minnesotan considered a fringe candidate just a few months ago, has ridden a wave of popularity after a strong performance in a June New Hampshire debate and a neck-and-neck finish with presumed national front-runner Mitt Romney in the Register’s June Iowa Poll.
Pawlenty placed sixth in the poll, he was panned for his performance in the debate, and his campaign fundraising numbers are considered mediocre.
It’s that narrative — that his chances of winning the Republican nomination are in peril — that Pawlenty addresses in this Iowa advertisement.
“Out here, you’re tested,” he says in the ad. “You face an opponent experts say can’t be beat. You fight, you bleed, you prevail.”
At the end, he adds, “Join me and prove the experts wrong.”