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2.02.2007

Where Were The Millionaires For Wrestling?

The funniest quote I've heard recently is from Dana White. The UFC president was asked what he thought of all the MMA companies that were starting up since the popularity of UFC has taken off. White answered, "Anyone with two nickels to rub together and three initials is trying to promote MMA." White is not far from the truth. Several companies including IFL, EXC, Strike Force, and Bodog Fight are now trying to get in on the lucurative action.

What all these companies have in common is that the people fronting the money for these up-start MMA companies are not people who have ever been associated with MMA or anything related to it. They are simply millionaires who see MMA as an investment to potentially make a lot of money. The thinking is, with the popularity of UFC it would seem logical that other MMA companies could also be successful.

This got me wondering. Where were these millionaires when professional wrestling was the hottest thing going?

It was around 1998 when I started to notice more of my classmates taking an interest in professional wrestling. People all of a sudden began to talk about "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock. Wrestling was in the infant stages of it's most successful period ever. It was at this time that two companies, WWF(E) and WCW, were raking in millions of dollars. With live event, pay-per-view, and television revenue coming in by the bus-load, it amazed me why there weren't more companies starting out.

Even ECW was starting a successful run. Why there weren't more people interested in buying ECW or putting ECW on television left many within wrestling suprised.

Why weren't there more wealthy people wanting to start a wrestling company at a time when wrestling was incredibly popular? I posed that question to Big Daddy recently and he was even suprised when he began to think back at the period. He responded by saying that, "Because people in wrestling are stupid." As true as that is, it's not MMA people getting in on the action in 2007, it's millionaires with no relationship to the sport.

What Big Daddy did tell me was in that period dozens of independent wrestling companies started up. For example, in the Toronto area in 1997 there were 3 indy companies. In 1998, there were over 20 wrestling companies all running shows. Wrestling grew rapidly at a grass-roots level in this period. Wrestling schools popped up everywhere as well because there were now young athletes who wanted to become just like The Rock and Goldberg.

It's interesting when you look back and compare the hottest period of professional wrestling to maybe the hottest period in mixed martial arts history. Wrestling grew at a local level while MMA is growing at an international one. However, I am still perplexed. Were there no rich guys around in 1998 who wanted to get into wrestling? Were they scared off?

If anyone has any suggestions or answers, please feel free to enlighten me, because I am stumped.


5 comments: on "Where Were The Millionaires For Wrestling?"

Tim Haught said...

Intriguing article that poses and interesting question Frank.

ECW provided an alternative product and it was just getting steam. How come no one was there to invest in the product?

Is it assumed that there are many great legit fighters in the world, but very few marketable professional wrestlers? Millionaires seem to be ok with running MMA companies without Cotoure, Ortiz, Shamrock, and Liddell, but no one wants to start a wrestling company without Hogan, Austin, Goldberg, and the Rock.

Hogan's XWF and McManus' WWA both came after the wrestling boom when WCW was no longer there to pick up on that non-WWE revenue.

What made TNA and WSX and even McMahon himself with the restart of an ECW brand think that now is the time? What made television executives decide to have wrestling on television every night of the week (Monday - Raw, Tuesday - ECW, Wednesday - WSX, Thursday - TNA, Friday - Smackdown) now that the big wrestling boom has passed?

It may be just as weird to me as how companies like Panda Energy and MTV are willing to buy in now, 10 years after wrestling was at it's hottest.

My only possible guess as to why business people would be afraid to invest in wrestling during any period is how Vince McMahon destroyed the territory system in the 80's. Perhaps they think they can't compete with any sized pocket book.

Imagine if World Class, the AWA, the NWA/WCW, the UWF, and the WWE were all able to function as national promotions today, because they all got a financial backer and network support 20 years ago... (Granted, it's hard to believe that there is that much revenue that wrestling fans generate to support that many promotions live shows, merchandise, and pay per view events)

Another huge difference is MMA's mainstream acceptance, and professional wrestling's role as pop-culture's bastard step-child. Yes, Rock, Austin, Goldberg, and Hogan are accepted, but the industry is still largely looked down upon as a whole. Being fans, I am sure I don't need to explain this further. Even during it's hottest period, when it was getting the greatest cable ratings of any show, it still was never treated with much respect by those who weren't on the bandwagon. MMA, though way more brutal and barbaric, seems to have a better public image.

I think that the heavy investment into MMA is going to go down as a mistake for a great number of the big money investers taking a shot at it. Time will tell how much money MMA fans as a whole have to put into the product. Still, a very intriguing question with no easy answer. Good work Frank.

Frank Fronte said...

Thanks Tim

I think MMA has the advantage of a legit sport and acceptance. But, it is a sport that is banned in New York, Ontario, and other states.
ESPN is only now starting to cover UFC.
I'm positive a lot of these guys are going to lose their shirts. The problem is, UFC is hot, not necessarily the whole sport.

Anonymous said...

Another point is that you have to have a certin level of acting to participate in wrestling. Thats not saying you need to go to acting school, or be in your high schools drama club. But you need to have the fans BELIVE its all real. Where in MMA the fans KNOW its all real. I can go find 2 tough guys from my block, have em beat the crap out of eachother, tape it, put it on ppv and open my own MMA company. But if I plucked those same 2 guys off the street and asked them to put together a beliveable wrestling match AND a beliveable reason as to why this match is happening I couldnt sell that to anyone. Why? Cuz they dont know how(well, ok, maybe they COULD know how, but for the sake of this...they dont).

Brian

The Hitman said...

Tim bought up the point that wrestling as a whole is always looked down on by some quantity of the pop culture masses. I think that is a large part of it. Wrestling has, for a long time, had that stigma of being "fake", and even if Vince McMahon were to come out publicly tomorrow and state "That's right, it's fake. We're all just putting on a show. Please find something better to do than waste your time watching something fixed like this", the wrestling world would still be chastised for trying to pass something fake off as being real.

As far as the millionaires thing goes-yes, they probably could have made a fortune during that time period, but once wrestling fizzled for a little while, what they would have left is a business in an unattractive market that either doesn't make much money (or worse yet, loses money) and a bunch of employees who need to be paid. You can either do one of two things-spin your wheels by keeping the business, or cut your losses by getting rid of the company and tarnishing your image.

Edge once said in an interview that the popularity of wrestling seems to alternate over a 7-year period. Maybe the millionaires who could have invested in a wrestling company thought the same thing and knew that someday we would be where we are, with one of the largest wrestling promotions out there actually losing money.

Darkside said...

The problem with wrestling has always been it's inability to shake its carny roots. There were millionairres who fronted money for wrestling promotions in the 90's, but they were fleeced by the people running the show, from bookers who would bring in their no talent hack friends to talent who would stiff the people paying the bills.

MMA is different in that its traditions are grounded in the respect and discipline of martial arts.