Eric Bischoff has revealed where World Championship Wrestling went wrong in the early nineties and how he set the company sailing on calmer waters.
When Ted Turner hired a young Eric Bischoff as Executive Producer, the promotion was headed for unchartered waters of financial doom. Money was being thrown out of the window on a weekly basis with little return and the creditability of a once-respected company being trashed with every free ticket given away.
Now, Bischoff has taken to his 83 Weeks Podcast in order to detail the wrongs he was tasked with putting right and what it took him to turn around the proverbial sinking ship. Despite money draining out of the account at the rate of knots, Eric didn’t feel like he was fighting a losing battle:
“I didn’t feel defeated, I was frustrated with the fact that WCW papered so many houses for so long. Every television show – papered. Every pay per view – heavily papered. Clash of Champions – heavily papered. It doesn’t take long for the audience to realize that you don’t have to buy tickets and just wait ’til the last minute; they’re gonna be free. They’ll put them on your windshield while you’re at 7-eleven buying a slurpee.
That was the marketing strategy for WCW in the early ’90s. You manifest your own destiny when you do that, when you condition your audience to know you’re going to give away tickets every time you come to town. It makes it so difficult to change that perception and reality. All these things and mistakes WCW was making was driving me nuts, because people wouldn’t listen, they wouldn’t see.”
Having identified the structural issues that were causing a collapse, Bischoff went on to speak about how he didn’t blame the talent, but those who had cost the business an eye-watering amount of money by not caring about how they brought fans into the arena:
“I didn’t look at it as a talent problem as much as I looked at it as a structural WCW problem. Marketing, promotion, positioning. Once you throw in the towel and quit trying to figure out why you’re a distant number 2– why isn’t the audience coming? Until you start having those conversations with each other, you’re basically throwing in the towel and accepting the fact that you’re always going to be a 2nd run. I was either too naïve or too stubborn to fall into that way of thinking.
One of the reasons I was the antichrist of WCW was because my opinion of what WCW needed to do was so alien and 180 degrees from what everybody internally in WCW [wanted to do]. I felt like we were too southern, we were too small. We didn’t position ourselves, even with our characters, the way we needed to position ourselves.”
To speculate you have to accumulate so the saying goes and in order to save World Championship Wrestling, Bischoff had to take arguably the biggest financial risk in WCW history. With money and time running out, the young gun dug deep into what resources remained in order to snag Hulk Hogan from the World Wrestling Federation.
Hogan’s arrival wouldn’t signal an overnight turnaround, but over the months and years to come one of the biggest names in the history of the industry helped to bring in those fans who refused to pay for tickets and eventually threatened the type of financial ruin on the competition that WCW faced before them:
“We thought, okay, now we’re going to be able to attract high quality promoters. WCW wasn’t going to go to Germany, and we didn’t promote those shows. We worked with a local promoter. The quality of the promoter you’re working with has a lot to do with the value of your property. In WCW in 1993, it was not a high value property; you’re going to get a secondary promoter at best. As opposed to really high quality promoters that promote major rock shows and have major relationships with major venues and the radio stations.”
With Hulk Hogan in the fold and business undertaking a steady incline, Bischoff faced one more hurdle in the form of booker Dusty Rhodes. As he explained, the pair had different ideas as to what was needed in order to create money-making storylines:
“Dusty had a different way of looking at things. He was looking for that Starrcade, he was looking for that WrestleMania, he was looking for that big event that could become a ten pole. I don’t think Dusty was the storyteller – long-term, strategic storyteller that he probably would’ve liked to have been. Dusty thought in terms of the next big event, the next big headline.
The idea of elongated storylines that lasted weeks, if not months, was not something that came naturally to Dusty. What did come naturally was his vision for big events as opposed to a strong story. Not that he didn’t come up with some great stories, but the majority of Dusty’s creative thought process was probably dedicated to what’s the next big huge hit is we can conjure up.”
Whether you agree with Eric Bischoff about Dusty Rhodes, how WCW handled their business prior to his appointment or the type of draw Hulk Hogan was in 1994, one thing remains a fact.
Eric Bischoff did what he was hired to do and then some. He not only saved World Championship Wrestling from financial disaster, but for a memorable period in the late nineties, he almost won an impossible war.
Credit for the interview: 83 Weeks
h/t for the transcription: Wrestling Inc