Commentary by Mike Mooneyham
Published Jan. 14, 2001
World Championship Wrestling may have new owners, but the man in charge of turning the company around is a very familiar face.
Eric Bischoff, whose vision for a live Monday night show and access to Ted Turner’s deep pockets helped transform WCW into the top wrestling company in the world in the mid-’90s, faces a more daunting task this time around. Bischoff, who was named president of WCW last week, must now take a company which has been drowning in red ink and turn it into a profitable operation for new owner Fusient Media Ventures, a showbiz investor set up by the executives who founded Classic Sports Network.
“In some ways it will be more difficult because we are more behind,” admits Bischoff. ” The opportunity is still there and the talent is still there. WCW has great talent on its roster. With the infusion of Fusient, it won’t be as difficult as everyone thinks.”
“We aren’t buying this because we think it should stay number two,” says Brian Bedol, chief executive officer of WCW Inc. “We won’t be satisfied until this is number one again. Our goal this time is 100 weeks, not 96 weeks in a row (referring to the streak Nitro once had of outdrawing Raw on Monday nights).”
There are, however, a number of disturbing questions that cannot be ignored. How could this financial bloodletting happen to a company that was the hottest promotion in the world for two consecutive years? How was it possible for a company, with the financial backing of Ted Turner and boasting one of the deepest talent rosters in the history of the business, to fall upon such hard times?
One need look no further than the ego-driven personalities who became more concerned with protecting their “spots” than doing what was best for the company. Success bred complacency, along with ridiculously high-priced contracts that were not based on performance or drawing power, but with certain performers’ “stroke” or ability to con those in charge with believing that those outlandish salaries were justified. And, when all was said and done, at the end of 2000 WCW was left with a greatly depleted lineup consisting of washed up “superstars,” uncontrollable prima donnas and a group of loyal performers whose workrate became increasingly overshadowed by their own paranoia.
It can be argued that while some stars grew fat and lazy, other performers gave too much for “the team,” damaging their own marketability in the process. The classic example, of course, is Ric Flair, who agreed to practically everything – from to jobbing to Bischoff, to playing the role of a crazed commissioner who ends up in a mental institution, to being the victim of a lynching who winds up stranded in the middle of a desert, to having his head shaved in the ring by former creative chief Vince Russo in what has to go down as one of the low points in Flair’s otherwise illustrious career. And, finally, Flair found himself in the role of CEO of a company whose virtues he sadly tried to sell to an ever-declining audience, a feat even the Nature Boy couldn’t pull off.
Many potential hot angles were killed before they even had the chance to see the light of day. The company has lost more money this year than it has in its 12 years of existence. The employees, from office staff to production to talent, have been operating on a day-to-day mode for months, hearing rumors almost on a daily basis but being given very few facts by an absentee management.
Now we know.
Most wrestling fans are pulling for the new company to succeed. For the sake of the business, it’s imperative that the company remains at least competitive, otherwise Vince McMahon will have a virtual monopoly on the wrestling business.
A lot, however, depends on whether Bischoff has learned from past mistakes and won’t repeat them, and his resolve in demanding that WCW’s prima donnas check their egos at the door. Much of the WWF’s success has revolved around the simple fact that ” the buck stops with Vince (McMahon),” and that those who work hardest and are team players are rightfully placed at the top of the roster. The prevailing practice at WCW has been allowing the inmates to run the asylum, resulting in low morale, backstage bickering and scores of lawsuits.
Ex-WCW boss Brad Siegel last week pledged his support of the new company.
“We will not cut back. In fact, one of the elements of the overall deal was a commitment from the Turner networks to con tinue to support and use our resource to promote WCW … We are there to support it and ensure a transition and as long as Brian and Eric and Steve (Greenberg) want to continue to use Turner, we will be there for it. If they decide to internalize it, we will work with them on the transition. We want to make sure this venture is set off in the right place, we want it to be successful. We have a minority share in it. Everything we can do to make sure it succeeds and succeeds tremendously, we will do.”
Bischoff said in an interview last April that WCW had “never made a dollar of profit in the history of the company” when he took over the division in 1994 and made it profitable within a 12-month period.
“For four straight years we had record earnings in that division. While certain individuals like to write about the fact that Eric Bischoff spent money like a madman, I need to point out that Eric Bischoff made money like a madman.” Bischoff, who was widely criticized for his issuance of high-dollar, incentive-free contracts and was given the nickname of “ATM Eric,” downplayed reports that he had spent exorbitant amounts of money on celebrity acts such as Master P and Kiss.
“It was a mere fraction of what we spent on talent. It was not a big investment at all. And in terms of Kiss, it was under $300,000, and when I launched that deal with Kiss, I did so because Gene Simmons and I had sat down and he had discussed with me Kiss’ plans for the year 2000, which included a farewell tour, which sold out the Phillips Arena in less than seven minutes. They have sold out every arena that they’ve been booked in less than an hour. Their merchandising per cap is at $19.67 – double that of the WWF.
“There’s a reason that I did that deal with Kiss. And quite frankly, the fact that they tried to bury the character we created out of that goes to show you the amount of vision that was apparent in that organization after I left. That character that they were trying to bury was getting over despite the fact that they were trying to kill it. Had we been able to execute the original plan with Gene Simmons and Kiss, that would have been about the smartest $300,000 that this company has ever spent, particularly looking at the success of Kiss as a promotion right now.”
Siegel, who took over the reins of the company during the transition from the Bill Busch-Kevin Sullivan regime to the Bischoff-Russo takeover, became more deeply involved dealing with WCW’s increasing financial problems while being unable to make major changes within the company.
Where and how the pieces fall into place is anyone’s guess at this point. Bischoff addressed a few of WCW’s major players on a WCW Live interview Thursday night.
On Sting: “He’s very excited. Very enthusiastic. He was already spewing ideas to me in a 10-minute phone conversation. He had things that he wanted to talk about and they were all very positive. I think at this point, Sting is a phenomenon. No matter what you do to him, how you try to hurt him, he comes back stronger. I think he’s going to be a very, very important part of what we do in the future.”
“On Scott Steiner: “We had always known, before I left in September ’99, that Scott Steiner-Bill Goldberg was a big-money opportunity. My opinion on that hasn’t changed. What do I think of Scott as a person? I’ve always liked working with Scott. I have a great relationship with Scott … He’s easy for me to talk to and easy for me to deal with. I know he’s volatile. But it’s because he’s competitive. Not because he’s a mean person or bad person. He’s a competitive person and it manifests itself sometimes in a not-so-comfortable way. But Scott’s fine. I look forward to working with him again.”
Bischoff said he had talked to a number of WCW performers since the announcement.
“I’ve talked to Bill Goldberg, I’ve talked to Kevin Nash, I’ve talked to Dallas Page, to Sting, to Luger, to Bagwell, I’ve talked to Booker T, to Jeff Jarrett
When I say I’ve talked to, I mean, in some cases I’ve left messages for them and they’ve left messages for me. But on some level we’ve communicated. Unless I’m wrong, I detected an overwhelming sense of relief and positive energy. These guys are professionals, they want direction, they want to win, they want to compete, they want to be proud of what they do. They just want some help getting there.”