Sunday, October 5, 2014

McMahon's idea of the future of wrestling

In the book, Sex, Lies and Headlocks, we get several opening salvos as to how shrew McMahon is, as he realizes the power of the media, specifically television, more specifically, cable television. McMahon knew that it was just a matter of time before the “alliance” would fold, after all, the other promoters could not even trust themselves, too many egos in play here. Even Thesz called them a “pack of thieves” when they got together for meetings (p. 12).  

McMahon put Sammartino as the WWWF titleholder for eight years, after a two week title by his former main wrestler, Buddy Rodgers. Sammartino’s popularity helped McMahon eliminate rivals to the NWA; the other rival being Gagne’s AWA. Gagne recognized the power of local TV, and he had a stable of 30 or so well-known wrestling professionals. He targeted wrestling ads in select territories in advance of upcoming booked matches. Gagne helped train and polish Hulk Hogan, and when he became popular, McMahon took him, and 30 other of AWA wrestlers then moved over to McMahon. So the wrestler consolidation has begun by McMahon. Part of Hogan’s motivation was that Gagne never gave him a title shot. From then on, the AWA was doomed; the handwriting was on the wall.

Vinnie was able to buy his father out after he leveraged to buy the Cape Cod Coliseum, which in turn, he was able to borrow on. McMahon has the ability to mix and match wrestlers like no one else, and this is one of his strong points as a promoter. Once in power, he got rid of the “old guard” title holders, and used old wrestlers to do so, such as The Sheik defeating Bob Backlund. McMahon was then now able to have Hogan gain the title against the Sheik.

McMahon’s ability to set up a good card, and match wrestlers, was really secondary to his shrewdness behind the scenes. He quickly recognized the power of cable TV, and went behind the scenes at the USA network to have them switch from Southwest wrestlers to the WWF. So sure was McMahon of his vision and eliminating the NWA, after signing the deal with USA network, he went directly to Ted Turner to ask to take over production of Turner’s TBS’ Georgia Championship Wrestling. While Turner would not give him a fast answer, McMahon directly approached Jack and Jerry Brisco of Georgia Championship Wrestling about buying the Brisco brothers out.  McMahon did this to get the exposure on TBS, one way or another. So we see in these early chapters of how focused McMahon was, and what he did behind the scenes to consolidate the cable TV market, which he deemed vital to the business.


Timothy S. Rich said...

As a thought experiment, imagine if McMahon had not been able to secure a spot on USA or another national cable spot in prime time. Would the WWF have been successful in going national? Sure, McMahon could still buy up local time slots in various markets, but cable opened up new markets entirely and allowed later for pay per view expansion. While I think a promoter would have eventually gone national anyway, it's hard to envision this without cable.

Gary said...

Yah, good thoughts. I too thought about this as I read the book. I think the whole thing is a series of fortuitous timings which went well for McMahon, because he capitalized on these timings. What would have happened if the then current Southwest public relations disaster of wrestlers throwing pig pies at each other did not occur. Would have Koplovitz, president of USA network back then even talked to McMahon to be the new wrestling supplier?

I agree with you that since the advent of cable, or in the case of Turner's Satcom 1, this made all the difference in marketing and growth, and since the cable business was there, someone would have taken advantage of it.

Sam Ford said...

As you point out, Gary, Vince's dad didn't exactly "go along with the NWA," as Vince Sr. pulled Buddy Rogers out of the NWA, built a territory around Sammartino, etc. And we saw Lou Thesz complain about New York's ways in how they screwed other promoters over with how they were willing to book Antonino Rocca, etc. But Vince Sr. largely stayed in his place up in NYC, despite being difficult to deal with sometimes...That's what made all of this coming from a second-generation promoter all the more shocking. People couldn't believe that it was someone from tradition, and they couldn't believe it was someone much younger than most of them. (Of course, learning about Vince's background explains why he may not have really been raised in the respect and tradition of the NWA way of understanding wrestling.)