AS I SEE IT - 10/06/2000
If anyone thought this wouldn't be a newsworthy year for the business end of the wrestling industry, the last six months would have convinced them otherwise.
But even more than the game of WWF-ECW-USA-Viacom musical chairs... even more than the efforts at corporate terrorism being practiced by the Parents Television Council toward the WWF...even more than the financial distress of ECW...is the soap opera surrounding the apparent sale of World Championship Wrestling by AOL/Time Warner to Mandalay Sports Entertainment, a sale brokered by Eric Bischoff and Jason Hervey.
The story of this sale has been continuing on and off for at least a year, ever since former WCW President Eric Bischoff's seeming disappearance from the day-to-day operations of World Championship Wrestling. The first rumor involved a sale of WCW to SFX Entertainment. Then the rumors of the sale to Mandalay Sports Entertainment resumed.
Despite frequent denials from Bischoff and Jason Hervey with Mandalay and many executives in WCW; it became apparent that the rumors of the sale of WCW were true within the last month, and that the truth was that these negotiations have been going on seriously since August.
Some history first...
Time Warner purchased Turner Broadcasting in 1999; including WCW, TBS Superstation, TNT, Turner South, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, New Line Cinema, Fine Line Features, Turner Original Productions, the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers, the Goodwill Games, the Philips Arena, and numerous other Turner operations.
Then, the AOL/Time Warner merger was announced on January 10th, 2000. After that announcement and after a closer look at the company's finances, Time Warner actively sought to sell WCW prior to the AOL merger. This, given WCW's persistent financial losses, losses projected at over $80 million this year alone.
So it became clear that Time Warner was seeking a suitor to take WCW and any other unprofitable subsidiaries off their hands before the AOL merger. They apparently found it in Mandalay Sports Entertainment.
Mandalay was first involved with WCW through Jason Hervey, who had been been involved in cross-company projects and "strategic alliances" such as the movie "Shutterspeed", which featured Steve "Sting" Borden and is said to be playing a key role in the WCW-Time Warner-Mandalay deal.
A logical question for readers is to ask just who Mandalay Sports Entertainment is. A reasonable description might be to call them the least publicly known multi-media entertainment juggernaut in North America.
First, some information about the man who runs Mandalay, Peter Guber:
Peter Guber is the founder and Chairman of Mandalay, with a background in entertainment that includes began with running Columbia Pictures until 1976; when he co-founded the Casablanca record label, which had acts such as KISS, Donna Summer and Parliament Funkadelic. Guber also produced notable TV documentaries, including a TV adaptation of Theodore White's "Selling of the Presidency".
Guber formed Polygram in 1979 and ran the company until he sold it in 1983. He then formed yet another company, Guber-Peters Entertainment where he produced financially and commercial pictures such as "Rain Man", "Batman", "Gorillas in the Mist" and "The Color Purple".
GPEC was sold to Sony Pictures in 1989, where Guber became the CEO/Chairman of the Board. At Sony, Guber focused on situation comedies such as "Married with Children", "Seinfeld" and "Mad About You".
While he has had great success, Guber's career has not been without controversy. Guber was responsible for a situation in 1994 where Sony was forced to announce $3.2 billion in losses on the studio it acquired due to poor domestic box office, high costs and studio personnel problems. This story was chronicled in the book "Hit and Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood".
After this episode, Guber was allowed to resign...but Sony provided him a considerable amount of funding and resources for the founding of Mandalay.
After the founding of Mandalay, Guber and Mandalay's potential relationship with WCW was in his mind as far back as in 1999. A 1999 Variety.com article contained the following passage: "...As Guber discusses plans for a new sporting facility in Dayton, a literacy program and a new comprehensive entertainment relationship with World Championship Wrestling, it grows exhausting just trying to take it all in."
As for Mandalay Sports Entertainment as a company, an April article in Business Wire described Mandalay as follows:
"Created in 1996, Mandalay Sports Entertainment is a premiere national sports entertainment provider that leverages a strong brand, dynamic management and sizable resources and assets to create, produce and deliver cutting edge sports entertainment properties across all media. MSE is poised to change the face of sports entertainment through the integration of its four strategic divisions - Professional Sports Franchises, Entertainment, Sports Entertainment Consulting and New Media - with related entities in each area of operation.
The company currently owns and operates four professional teams, the Las Vegas Stars - Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres; the Dayton Dragons - Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds; the Lake Elsinore Storm - Disney's Single-A affiliate; and the Las Vegas Thunder of the International Hockey League.
In addition, MSE includes numerous production companies which develop entertainment projects integrating the world of professional sports with entertainment, and has formed strategic alliances with World Championship Wrestling and Tommy Boy Music, both Time Warner Companies."
Additionally, in that same month, Mandalay entered into a partnership with SFX Entertainment and a company called Space Station Television (SSTV); with the a venture called New Urban Entertainment (NUE). SFX promotes, produces, and presents a wide variety of live entertainment events; owning and/or operates over 100 live entertainment venues in major American markets. For those in the Northeast, SFX might be best known as the owners of Electric Factory Concerts.
SFX was also mentioned, as I've said before, a previous suitor for WCW. Even after continued denials, the stories won't go away that SFX may have some role in this sale, either directly, or by serving as a promoter of live events as a part of a partnership with Mandalay.
Reports on the Mandalay Bay-WCW story isn't limited to wrestling websites any longer. Even mainstream sources are reporting the story of the imminent sale of WCW. Electronic Media, which refers to itself as the "broadcast, cable, interactive newspaper", is reporting that Mandalay Sports is about to buy WCW and that an announcement of a purchase could come as early as mid-October. TV Guide.com reported similar news, as did Wednesday's New York Post online edition.
Within the last week in the online wrestling media, dozens of wrestling sites are reporting news and rumors regarding the sale. Every item floated out there; be it true, false, or diversionary (such as the most recent Jason Hervey denials) is put out as if the Gospel. But in the last month, there has been little doubt among reputable wrestling sites. Now, the only question seems to be when the sale will take place.
One of the usually reputable online sources, the Pro Wrestling Torch has reported that "despite the possibility that a deal has already been reached in principle, there may be no announcement of a sale of WCW to Mandalay Sports for another two weeks. Oct. 18 may the earliest a sale is announced to avoid overlapping with the Australian tour.
Eric Bischoff is meeting with WCW event coordinator Zane Bresloff today in Las Vegas, NV - and those in WCW's front office believe it has to do with Bresloff running live events for a Mandalay-owned WCW. Bresloff, who works out of Denver, CO, is close friends with Bischoff and is in frequent contact with him in general."
Vince Russo, Terry Taylor, J.J. Dillon are speculated to be among those on the outs with a potential Bischoff regime.
One of the wildest rumors as to a new face to be included ON a new booking committee is none other than Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer fame. This rumor took flight among some attending the Unforgiven PPV, including a noted wrestling webmaster.
Some began to further speculate on possible truth to this rumor when stories began circulating about changes in Meltzer's Wrestling Observer website. Those rumored website changes were in fact confirmed Thursday when Meltzer announced the termination of the Wrestling Observer online newsletter and Figure Four Weekly.
While these rumors are unconfirmed, these recent events are bound to give rise to further speculation.
Many feel an announcement of the sale will be made after WCW returns from its Australian tour. It's been widely speculated this is behind the refusal of Vince Russo to go to Australia, with Russo feeling that any sale involving Bischoff will result in his immediate termination.
With so much up in the air, the atmosphere in the offices of WCW is chaotic at best. WCW staffers are seeking to transfer to other Turner divisions, before the WCW sale takes place and potentially leaves them unemployed.
There is also the distinct possibility that WCW might move west to Los Angeles where the other Mandalay offices are located.
The inner politics between those in the "Russo camp" and the "Bischoff camp" have continued with various WCW executives being seen backstage at WCW shows within the last week. After the recent return of Vince Russo to power, some of these executives largely disappeared from the scene for some months. It would reasonable to surmise that with the sale, those with past ties to Eric Bischoff may be in political favor with the new ownership.
Then, of course, there are the questions about what in-ring talent formerly associated with Eric Bischoff might make a return to WCW; such as Hulk Hogan, Kanyon, DDP, and Scott Hall. It has appeared strange to many observers that so many high-priced stars have been collecting paychecks from WCW and Time-Warner for the last several months, at a time when WCW is losing tens of millions of dollars.
A potential sale to a buyer like Mandalay that sees a need for that starpower might be a logical explanation to what has seemed so long to be such an illogical situation.
One hopes that Guber and his company will utilize his and his company's multi-media vision and experience to bring WCW back to a competitive and profitable state. Guber, Bischoff, and those who will work for them will have an extraordinary amount of work ahead of them.
Here are some of the things that, in my opinion, they NEED to do to make WCW competitive and profitable again.
1) Give a greater emphasis to athletics over the Bizarro world attempts at copying WWF storylines that have been featured under the Russo regime.
A survey was done by a WCW employee that found those surveyed would prefer a more athletic product over the current WCW product. Because that wasn't the politically correct thing to say within WCW these days, the employee felt compelled to resign after presenting these results, and receiving the predictable reaction to them.
2) Allow Hulk Hogan and other older wrestlers there for name value (rather for talent and workrate) to only serve as "special attractions" and nothing else.
Do not put belts on them.
Do not push these wrestlers on TV and PPV above the younger talent that will have to be emphasized for long-term success.
Remind them that, at the appropriate time, they will have to put over younger talent. If they do not, find them in breach of contract and send them home. Permanently.
3) When creating storylines, let them have a beginning, a middle and an end. Let them have a desired dramatic result.
4) While fans know that wrestling is a work, don't rub it in their face each and every show. Don't insult people's intelligence, but allow them to suspend their disbelief.
To view it another way, if someone read Romeo and Juliet, they'd be a little put out if Shakespeare had noted each 10 pages that no one really dies, because it's just a story. When you read a book or watch a movie or dramatic TV show, you KNOW what you're seeing isn't "real". But you don't stop and think about that fact every five minutes. If the story is well done, you just get into what you're reading or watching.
5) No member of the WCW booking committee is to be featured in an on camera role.
A good example of why this works is Paul Heyman. Paul Heyman said years ago in a newsletter interview that if he were to book, he would take himself off camera. With extremely rare exception, Heyman has stuck by that promise over his seven years as booker, even when then-ECW owner Tod Gordon wanted him to resume his ongoing on camera role as "Paul E. Dangerously".
While this idea may seem impractical, this prevents what has been a continuing problem for years and years. No matter how unselfish a worker might be, it seems inevitable that he will push himself and his friends at the expense of the product as a whole. If pushing friends can't be prevented, at least we can prevent someone from pushing himself.
6) Insure that your commentators push the action in the ring... not a PPV...not some other worker...not their pet gripes. How many times have we seen Tony Schiavone putting over Terry Bollea when we had a four star match going on in the ring? When the action in the ring is pushed, then the storylines get over. When the storylines get over, then interest grows. When interest grows, so will ratings and PPV buyrates.
7) Finally and most importantly... build for the long-term. Forget ratings. Forget hotshotting a match for the possibility of beating RAW. No three-minute main events with screw job endings promoted throughout the show just to sucker someone in to watch the show. People that put the investment of time into a show want to see what they've been promised. If they don't see it, they don't tune in next week.
Build your storylines for the long-term, and not because someone is looking over your shoulder expecting a certain ratings score this week.
If you do it right, and provide an entertaining product, people will turn the channel to see you.
So there's some thoughts on the future of WCW...Let's hear what you think.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)