Re: 20 years Ago: Wrestling Observer
September 26th, 1988
-- Long Island is dropping the MSG network, as they are starting their own sports channel and wanted to make MSG a premium station, while MSG was demanding to be on basic cable. They couldn't reach an agreement, so the MSG network is gone. Most think this will increase attendance, because there is no option for fans to stay home and watch shows on TV anymore.
-- Syndication ratings on 8/14 indicated a 8.5 national rating, the lowest level Dave has seen, but jumped back up to a strong 11.0 the week of 8/21.
-- Terry Taylor is now managed by Bobby Heenan with a nickname of "The Little Red Rooster". He will be doing comedy and filling Hercules' old spot as Heenan's jobber. "With Taylor as a rooster and Owen Hart dressed up like a chicken, what is next? I'm expecting Arn Anderson to show up dressed like a hen. And we can call this the World Poultry Federation."
-- Hercules is now a babyface and will turn with Ted DiBiase, which Dave says alone will probably make Hercules a candidate for Most Improved Wrestler. The angle is that DiBiase is going to buy a slave. Heenan sells him, but Hercules rebels and gets jumped. Later on the taping, Randy Savage sided with Hercules. They are moving away from the Savage/DiBiase feud, as Savage will start working Andre and Bad News Brown on house shows.
-- Jake Roberts missed several dates due to the death of his stepfather but is now back in action.
-- 9/9 in Cincinnati drew 6,000 fans headlined by Savage vs Andre.
-- Hogan vs Andre headlines at The Omni on 10/23.
-- They are coming out with a new quarterly magazine spotlighting one wrestler. The first will be Randy Savage.
-- Curt Hennig and Owen Hart are both due for big pushes. In a Toronto newspaper, there was a huge picture of Blue Blazer, with Owen Hart in the caption underneath, which Dave says makes this wrestling's worst kept secret. "I don't expect he'll be getting a super-push, but the guy with chicken feathers against the rooster does sound like a natural match-up, and the potential is there for awesome matches." Hennig will be billed as Mr. Perfect and will have several weeks of video clips, getting a similar push to Ted DiBiase, before he ever wrestles on TV.
-- No word on Arn and Tully and how they'll be used, but everyone thinks Arn has great potential as a singles star. Dave thinks they'll probably be a team, that even at half speed will have good matches with the Hart Foundation and British Bulldogs.
-- 9/15 in Norwalk, CT drew 783 headlined by Rockers vs Conquistadores. Last week, the WWF had a spot show in Maryland that drew 64 fans, 50 of which were comped tickets.
-- 9/10 in Boston drew 8,500 headlined by Hogan vs DiBiase in a great match. 9/9 in Springfield, MA drew 3,600 headlined by a Hogan/DiBiase **** match.
-- Dave is going to do something he vowed to never do, attend a show on 9/19 at Cow Palace headlined by Savage vs Andre. "The details may be GORY, however."
-- Papers haven't been signed, but the sale is pretty much a done deal. What is holding it up at this point is Crockett trying to reach a deal with Bill Watts for the $3 million he still owes him from the UWF buyout. He wants to settle for $1.5 million. The agreement will be signed as soon as the lawyers translate their agreements into a contract and Crockett settles his debt with Watts, expected for around the end of the month.
-- Crockett has also been having serious talks with Fritz Von Erich, but no one knows what about. If they reach a working agreement, Superclash III is in jeopardy because Kerry Von Erich is headlining.
-- "A lot has been written and even more has been talked about regarding the financial state of the NWA. The key point that has to be made is this, if the NWA, under the Turner regime, continues to do business in the manner which it did over the past year or two, then this is a case of good money being sent after bad money. While it is a valid argument that some of JCP's problems stemmed from its purchase of the UWF and trying to hold together a syndicated network which hasn't yet proven to be profitable, to blame all the problems on the UWF purchase, would be to ignore facts such as declining house show revenue for most of the past year and more importantly, declining TV ratings. While the July Bashes and the first Flair-Luger matches popped good houses in many cities, the TV ratings during the corresponding period didn't pop along with it, so the house show gains were a short-term false high. The problems with the booking have been stated, and overstated, and they are still there. The problems with the television format have been addressed already. Probably the No. 1 black mark against Jim Crockett as head of this organization is very simply, his inability to react when all signs called for needed changes, or his obliviousness to those obvious signs. Crockett has a five-year deal with the Turner organization, but he'll be behind Petrick in the chain of command and it's too early to tell how much actual influence he'll wield, but early signs indicate he'll be a key figure in decision making. I have serious fears that company will simply follow the same path, and the end result of that path is the same financial picture which resulted in getting millions of dollars into debt over the past year. Nobody can state, for certain, that a change to any new philosophy will be a winner. The only thing we can state is that the same philosophy has already proven to be a loser. I know that a lot of readers, and I include myself in this category, enjoy the NWA, at least on its good days. But I've enjoyed lots of things that were not financially viable, and no longer exist, so those of you who disagree that changes should be made aren't looking at the big picture here. If the company isn't financially viable, it will cease to exist, and if it wasn't for Turner seeing financial advantages as far as TV ad revenue and PPV potential, the promotion would probably cease to exist by the end of this year.
Having said all that, I'm convinced there is enormous potential in this new company if things are run correctly. Run correctly means pay attention to the fans, which if nothing else, was the old company's weakness. We had babyfaces that the fans didn't like; heels that the fans cheered; declining TV ratings with no change in format; and constant screw job endings which led to declining house show gates, yet to this day, these same endings persist on virtually every major house show. We had all champions being heels, yet never winning any matches. We had babyfaces who never lost, but they never really won, either. We had the same old tired cast constantly rehashed.
To Rhodes' credit as booker, I truly believe he did a great job of rehashing the same old tired cast, but the situation called for new mainline stars. But for whatever reason, it was a situation he refused to address. The UWF sale could, and should, have created the most profitable year in JCP's history and made the fall of 1987 the quarter in which JCP 'took off.' Instead, virtually all the company's problems can be traced to that quarter. The key advice for the new company is to admit that mistakes were made, and not to repeat them.
Every politician will tell you that he's for better education and reduced crime. We will all agree that the TV syndication network has to be improved, particularly in the key markets like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, which are necessary for national media exposure. Ironically, these are the markets that the JCP product is 'over' the least in, as the recent PPV card plainly showed.
I'm calling for an overhaul, in many ways, with how wrestling has been run. This business has been run a certain way for reasons mainly having to do with that's how it was run before. One long-time wrestler turned promoter who is a friend of mine that was cursing how seedy a business this is behind-the-scenes stated why wrestling is in the shape it's in best. Most of the people who head wrestling companies, at least until the McMahon regime, were people who worked in the business. They did things the way they were taught, not because they were the best ways, but because that's how it was done. Let's say a wrestler becomes a booker or promoter. When he was a worker, he was screwed around, stiffed on payoffs, lied to, had the carrot dangled in front of him, etc. So when he becomes the booker or promoter, this is the business that was taught to him, and becomes the one doing the dangling, lying, etc. because that's how the business operates. I hope the TV business doesn't operate in the same way, because wrestling has the potential to be as much fun a business on the inside as it appears to be to the fans who enjoy the product so much.
I've got suggestions on a number of topics that I'll get into here:
Employee relations: Pro wrestling is physically demanding entertainment. Because of this, it is simply unfair that wrestlers don't get company-provided medical insurance. The business also requires travel, and since it is the company, and not the individual, that is in control of the schedule, certain road expenses should be provided. For contracted employees, they should receive transportation costs to get to the site of their work. They should also get hotel expenses, as they are not independent contractors who make their own schedules. It should be a decent hotel, which the company should be able to get a nice group rate in. If a star, like a Ric Flair, wants to stay at the Hemsley Palace, he also should be allowed to, provided he makes up the difference in room rates (for the individual superstar, and there are just a few of these, they may have the leverage to negotiate certain perks just as in other forms of entertainment, but I'd use this as a general standard). Cab far or rent-a-cars to the arena should also be paid for by the promotion. Wrestlers should also be paid a weekly salary, or a per-match salary, irregardless of the gates during the week. Balloon payment contracts are a farce, as are deferred payment contracts. While retirement benefits sound nice on the surface, it isn't a viable plan. By its nature, wrestling has little job security and that really can't change, second, who is to say that a promotion around today will be around when it comes time to pay these retirement benefits. Contracts which don't guarantee a certain income leads to possible exploitation of the wrestler. Now one thing has to be stated, the amount of money paid out, whether it be in straight payoffs, or salary plus road expenses plus insurance premiums, still has to enable the company to function profitably. The company has to decide a so-called fair price to pay the employee and the employee has to use whatever leverage he can, which in most cases isn't much, to try and make the price 'fairer'. What should happen is that during one of those hot weeks when the gates are booming, the wrestlers under this plan simply won't make the kind of money as they had in the past. But during the bad weeks, they'll at least know how much the check will be and if they have any concept of how to manage their money, won't fall behind on house or car payments due to injuries or bad houses (which are basically out of their control), just as is the case with virtually every other business. Wrestlers also, if they manage their money correctly, won't lose money going on the road. It is really a sad story to hear about wrestlers, and many big-name stars, even with Titan, can fall into this category, that go on the road for a few weeks at a time away from their family, and the check that comes back is less than they had to spend just to eat and make the shots each night.
Television: A wrestling television show shouldn't be a self-contained episode, but rather a piece in a soap-opera like puzzle. There should be a reason to make you watch each week and when the show ends, it should end with a teaser that makes you anticipate the next episode. The current NWA format shows virtually no imagination or planning for the future. There is no tease for the next week, or on TBS, even a tease for the Sunday show. You can't give away your house show main events because you can give away less and still draw good TV ratings than you can give away at house shows and draw good gates. But when you give away nothing on television and ratings go down, the people who aren't watching are very unlikely to become potential customers. Format squashes have to be done to get over things like winning holds, but the squashes can be lengthened so they appear to be 'contests' rather than squashes and so the winner appears to have actually worked for victory. When the jobber shows no offense, it not only makes the calibre of your product look weak, but negates much of the effect of the victory to the star. Anybody can beat up someone who doesn't fight back and beating somebody that bad in 30 seconds over-and-over is bad television and in the long-run can't help get the winner over much, either. Decent matches, where the result is in question, should occur at least once per hour. There should be occasional surprises to make the fan think he can't always predict everything. Angles should be spread around to all programs. Right now, we can reasonably be assured that on the TBS morning show and Sunday show that we will never see an angle shot, or even continued or climaxed. The two-hour Saturday show needs personality features, wrestling videos and other innovative things besides endless squash-interview routine which gets old after 40 minutes. The syndicated shows should have story-lines and feuds among middle-of-the-card guys which carry-over week after week. NWA Main Event can be used to showcase match-ups which could provide good action, but wouldn't be the type that draw at the arenas. Occasional face vs. face matches or heel vs. heel matches with imaginative finishes mixed in with building up title contenders can be the format. If someone has a world title match that month, they should be on NWA Main Event and gain clean wins, using his big move, on middle-names that mean something. Show the fans on television that the guy is on a roll and have him beat people that mean something. If ratings are up, pat yourself on the back. If ratings are down, it's time to run a hot angle to get interest back. Since the current all-squash plus interview format started, ratings on both TBS and the syndicated package have consistently declined. Instead of paying attention to the warning signals, the formats have remained the same and needless damage to the group's popularity has resulted.
Merchandising: I don't know who thought up the Four Horsemen vitamin idea, but there should be enough checks and balances to stop obvious bombs from making their way to the public. Titan aims its wrestling at children, and merchandises for children. It's harder to merchandise for adults, and the NWA's prime audience is the male 18-30 demographic group. How about a Lex Luger and Sting home workout video? A video tracing Ric Flair's career over the past 10 years? A two-hour video of legendary NWA matches? Posters, T-shirts and photos should be more readily available to those who don't attend house shows, and the wrestlers should virtually always be wearing or carrying their gimmick merchandise when they do an interview to get the gimmick over. A professional magazine, written intelligently, should be a money-maker once it gets established. Pulling the plug after an issue or two shows no commitment and hurts the company in the long run.
Booking: Anyone can sit back and write a dozen new scenarios, some of which would work and some of which wouldn't work and until they are tried, nobody knows for sure. Titan has bombs, too. Nobody comes close to 100% on angles. The head booker probably shouldn't wrestle because we've seen the danger that causes. They should, however, be very receptive to all ideas from the wrestlers and wrestlers should be encouraged to help put together their own programs, provided these programs are going in the same general direction as the booker has planned. Don't fight the fans. If the fans like someone, even though you encourage the fans not to, than take advantage of the charisma of the wrestler. If a wrestler is getting over without a push (case in point, Sting), don't hold them back simply because another guy who isn't getting over as well was in your original plans. Recognize when an act is stale and do something about it. Everyone knows the Road Warriors are stale and it isn't entirely Rhodes' fault, but it is his fault to allow them to get as stale as they have gotten. The loss of Blanchard & Anderson should be used to your advantage. After the shows already booked through the early part of October are done, put Midnight Express vs. Flair & Windham and have them vow to eliminate the entire horseman clan. Have the Warriors attack Sting, who is the only wrestler popular enough to make a Road Warrior turn effective, and a Warriors vs. Sting & Luger feud for the short term could cause a spark. Any turn of Flair should be postponed for a while. There have been too many turns already, however the Roadie turn seems to be a necessity so they quit floundering in prelims plus killer heels are desperately needed. Create a legitimate junior heavyweight division. The idea that jr. heavies don't draw money has been reinforced by pushing glorified jobbers like Nelson Royal and Denny Brown as World champions of that division for years. To get the division 'over', you will need an outstanding and charismatic wrestler to be the focal point, and a charismatic opponent to help him get over. Don't allow the top jr. heavies to be jobbers for the heavies, in fact, they should hold their own and when they have to lose, do it in such a way where they've got the guy on the road and on the verge of losing type of a story. While a World champion vs. junior champion match (which the heavyweight champ would win after a bitter struggle) might not sellout a house show, or be appropriate for a PPV megacard, it would make one great prime-time special main event which can go 25-30 minutes and get both wrestlers over. Scout the talent in the smaller groups and make changes when necessary. Sometime soon, change the NWA champion, and my suggestion is to give it to Sting and let him run with it and find a killer heel (Vader? Bigelow? Hansen?) for a short run while at the same time grooming Flair/Windham for subsequent bouts. Do you realize for all real purposes, Flair will have been champion for seven years by the time you read this? Yes, he is the greatest of this era, and maybe any era, but that is too long. Give Sting the opportunity to see just how far he can go with the right push. And don't forget, Flair has always been tremendous in the role of the totally obsessed challenger. The only reason it didn't draw last year is because they made a horrendous pick as champion. Don't repeat finishes in the same arena. If I had my way, there wouldn't be a referee bump for another six months. It's been done so often it's become a cliche. And don't think all those screw job endings in the Carolinas haven't had an effect on the gate. They won't affect the cities you run less frequently because the endings aren't repeated enough for fans to get wise and turned off by them, but I look at those ref bump/false finish endings at just about every Greensboro card and see how drastically the gates have declined and can't help but feel there is a correlation. Encourage fans to think. If they spend any kind of time thinking about the product, it becomes easy to hook them and they become the most consistent and loyal customers."
-- Talk of Chigusa Nagayo coming in to work spots shows against Misty Blue.
-- Ricky Morton is gone again, headed to Japan.
-- Steve Beverly reports that the Clash did about $500,000 in ad revenue and $400,000 should have been TBS profit. Crockett is receiving very little, if any, rights fees.
-- 9/16 in Richmond drew 6,500 headlined by Flair vs Luger.
-- The Midnights/Horsemen title change when Arn and Tully were leaving was supposed to be 2/3 falls, but was switched to one fall because one of the participants was in no condition to perform. Still, the match was ****.
-- NWA's national syndication rating is a 6.4 for 8/14, and a 5.8 for 8/21.
-- Karl Kunnert plead guilty of defrauding the U.S. Marine Corps, promising to promote a show featuring Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Nikita Koloff (and Jimmy Valiant??) without ever contacting Crockett. He will be sentenced in federal court later in the year.
-- A PPV is being prepared for 12/13 at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago. The official announcement should take place this weekend or next. The show will include wrestlers from the AWA, CWA, World Class, Southern, and David McLane's POWW. The main event will be Kerry Von Erich vs Jerry Lawler "for the 1428th time in a unification match." Verne Gagne will be the lead promoter.
-- "The odds are greatly against this one being a success, for a number of reasons. First off, none of these smaller groups have any wrestlers who are 'over' to the national audience. There are a few with the potential to be 'over', but not the exposure. And even though the combined wrestling networks of all these groups may be nearly as large as the JCP network, these groups are also all perceived by the general fan as 'minor league' and in general are on weak UHF stations in most markets except the home area for CWA and World Class. The date itself is a problem. If a Tuesday night isn't a tough enough problem, the date is sandwiched between Vince McMahon's PPV show on Thanksgiving and Crockett's PPV show on 12/26. I question how many cable systems will even be willing to clear a third wrestling show within a five week period."
-- The theory is that because every group will be promoting the show heavily, the viewer will be hit with hype in so many directions that they will view the show as a major event. But Dave points out that even with help from a larger syndicated network than all of these combined, plus TBS promotion, the Great American Bash was only marginally profitable. Dave says the market is on the verge of saturation, if the recent buyrates for both NWA and WWF shows are any indication. The novelty is gone.
-- The first combined taping for ESPN was on 9/17 in Nashville before 6,000 fans and will air on 10/1, 10/8, and 10/15. There were no cross-promotion matches except Lawler vs Kerry, and they seem to have learned their lesson from 1984 when local headliners were used as jobbers for national talent and it killed the local guys. Highlights included a ***1/2 match with Michael Hayes & Steve Cox vs Samoan Swat Team and Lawler vs Kerry in a **** match, and Jarrett/Dundee/Valiant vs Fuller/Golden/Rich in a ***1/2 match.
-- Jimmy Jack Funk & John Tatum lost the Texas tag titles in a unification match against the Samoan Swat Team on 9/12 in Fort Worth. The Samoans then dropped the belts on 9/16 in Dallas to Michael Hayes and Steve Cox, in a match where Hayes said he would refund everyone's money if they lost. Buddy Roberts said in the buildup that Hayes' ex-wife took all his money and he didn't have money to refund anyone.
-- Phil Hickerson is out of action with a dislocated hip.
-- Tommy Rich's heel turn has picked up business a little. 9/18 in Marietta drew 550. Jerry Lawler, Eric Embry, and Kerry Von Erich are also coming in. "Can you believe it? It really does appear these smaller groups are starting to work together."
-- Dustin Rhodes made his wrestling debut on 9/13 in Tampa, pinning Bob Cook.
-- Steve DiSalvo vs Makhan Singh is headlining most shows. DiSalvo turned babyface after Ed Whalen kept pushing for it. This is the end of Singh on color commentary, which Dave says is sad because he was tremendous. "I've finally figured out in a nutshell why Whelan is so hard to digest. While there are several announcers, Gordon Solie and Lance Russell come to mind, who within their area, are far more well-known than the wrestlers they are announcing, both Solie and Russell at least put over the wrestlers as the stars of the program. Whelan puts himself over as the star of the show and the wrestling and the wrestlers as needless background. Whelan is better known in the area than any of the wrestlers, but he should put the wrestlers over as the stars, which he doesn't do."
-- Sky Low Low came out of retirement for a few weeks when Coconut Willie sprained his ankle and Stu Hart needed a replacement.
-- "Newcomer [Lance] Idol is one of the better workers on the circuit, patterning himself after Ray Stevens. They've gotten carried away with his build-up, as on interviews, Idol claims wins over Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase and Brutus Beefcake (remember those tests in school? Pick which name doesn't belong in that list). His work is good but he tends to overact and exaggerate movements, as his interview claiming wins over those guys would indicate."
-- "The most impressive guy left here is Benoit, who is a Brad Armstrong-calibre worker but using more of an old Dynamite Kid style."
-- 9/9 in Chiba before 2,750 fans ended the latest series, headlined by Jumbo Tsuruta vs Abdullah the Butcher.
-- The Road Warriors may be working some dates soon, and Sting is being announced as making his debut from 10/15 to 10/28, but there is considerable question over whether that's going to happen. "Sting is one of the few foreign wrestlers who has received good press before his debut from all three weeklies (who often bad-mouth wrestlers the other magazine praises) and Baba is looking at making him a Hansen-calibre superstar but no doubt he's under considerable pressure from the Crocketts not to leave at such a critical point, yet if he doesn't leave, Baba may consider him to be like Steve Williams, who Inoki wanted to push to the top but canceled so many tours due to U.S. pressure that it was felt he wasn't reliable enough to be pushed all the way to the top and he lost his spot to Big Van Vader."
-- Baba is also negotiating with Nord the Barbarian. Dave says Nord could get over huge right now as Brody's protege and it would take a year before anyone realized he couldn't wrestle.
-- Hisashi Shinma recently told the crowd that Antonio Inoki was retiring from wrestling in Japan. Inoki said he was planning a U.S. tour where he would wrestle stars like Hulk Hogan. The real story is that Inoki is vying to get his spot back. He and Shinma are sitting back hoping Choshu and Fujinami fail miserably so that New Japan comes groveling back to Inoki to take the top spot. Ratings are still below what they should be, and they are aware of this, trying to build a strong syndicated network with local TV stations.
-- Maeda will be missing the 9/24 show, which will be a big test for this group. The main event will be Takada vs Yamazaki. If it draws, the style is what is selling tickets. If it doesn't, it's Maeda that is selling tickets.
-- Joe Pedicino's wrestling package is doing well in Georgia, beating out TBS each week. He has aired some tapes of FLAIR in Houston, the women's group, which apparently splices in WCCW and AWA crowd shots after big spots.
-- New York Daily News is considering a wrestling column. Dave is told Vince will hate it.