Medium 9781770906426

Death of WCW: 10th Anniversary Edition

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In 1997, World Championship Wrestling was on top. It was the number-one pro wrestling company in the world, and the highest-rated show on cable television. Each week, fans tuned in to Monday Nitro, flocked to sold-out arenas, and carried home truckloads of WCW merchandise. It seemed the company could do no wrong.But by 2001, however, everything had bottomed out. The company — having lost a whopping 95% of its audience — was sold for next to nothing to Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. WCW was laid to rest.What went wrong? This expanded and updated version of the bestselling Death of WCW takes readers through a detailed dissection of WCW’s downfall, including even more commentary from the men who were there and serves as an object lesson — and dire warning — as WWE and TNA hurtle toward the 15th anniversary of WCW’s demise.

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4 Chapters

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PART I: THE BIRTH

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ê ê ê ê ê PART I

THE BIRTH

“Ted called me up and said ‘Hey Vince, guess what? I’m in the rasslin’ business now!’”

—Vince McMahon, Owner, World Wrestling Entertainment

CHAPTER

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1988–1996:

Mr. Turner’s Baby Boy

While many believed World Championship Wrestling could never die and were stunned in 2001 when it actually did, an even larger group believed the company probably should have died countless times before then, since it had consistently lost so much money. And perhaps it should have. But the misconception that WCW was a huge money-loser in its formative years should be dispelled right off the bat. In truth, WCW lost around $6 million per year in the first five years of its existence—not a horrible figure at all, considering what they were giving Turner: four hours of excellent ratings every single week of the year. Some within the Turner organization squawked at the losses, but Ted Turner himself didn’t. In fact, Turner was such a cheerleader for the company that when his board of directors suggested shutting WCW down in 1992 (their argument was that they’d save tons of money putting movies they already owned in the WCW time slots), he told them that wrestling built the Superstation, and as long as he was in charge it would always have a home there. He also told them never to bring the idea up again.

 

PART II: THE RISE

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ê ê ê ê ê PART II

THE RISE

“Hulk has control over what he does. We don’t mind, because obviously he is doing it right. It helps us … we need help.”

—Terry Taylor, Booking Committee Member, 1997

CHAPTER

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1997:

THE WAITING GAME

If 1996 taught Eric Bischoff anything, it was that the New World Order was the future of his company. That much was made clear from the ratings and the buy rates, both of which had skyrocketed following the launch of the angle. The numbers did not lie. Attendance was up 43 percent over 1995, gates were up 87 percent, and buy rates for PPVs—where the company made the bulk of its money—were closing in on that. In fact, the very first Nitro of 1997 drew 10,034 paid—a brand-new record—and this came a week before the Chicago show shattered that number with over 17,000 fans paying $189,206. The nWo had brought them to the Holy Land, and nowhere else would the spotlight shine brighter than this.

 

PART III: THE FALL

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ê ê ê ê ê PART III

THE FALL

“The biggest mistake was that they had leadership where all the generals were guys who had never been in a battle. They never had anybody who knew what they were doing. There’s nobody who ever understood wrestling or the minds of wrestling fans. They never understood the nature of the business.”

—Bret Hart, WCW Wrestler 1997 to 2000

CHAPTER

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1999:

GAMBLING ON A SAVIOR

On the surface, 1998 had been a hugely successful year. Although WCW made every stupid mistake that could possibly be made, attendance was up 47 percent over 1997, ratings were up 56 percent, buy rates were up 18 percent, a whopping 49 percent of house shows had sold out, and the average house show gross was up 90 percent. It’s not difficult to see why those on the inside thought there was nothing to worry about.

But the sins of 1998 began to take their toll in 1999. Even worse, 1999 was the year that WCW made some of their most horrendous decisions yet, decisions that, instead of turning things around as hoped, actually sped up the company’s decline. Consider this: just two years earlier, WCW was the number-one wrestling company in the entire world. In the 365 days of this year, they managed to lose no less than $15 million—more money than any promotion had ever lost in the history of the business.

 

PART IV: THE DEATH

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ê ê ê ê ê PART IV

THE DEATH

“WCW is not a core business for Turner Broadcasting. We’ve decided professional wrestling in its current incarnation just isn’t ­appropriate for the high-scale, upscale brand that we have built on TNT and TBS Superstation. We’re no longer interested in carrying the product.”

—Jim Weiss, Turner Spokesperson

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2001:

THE ULTIMATE SWERVE

From the beginning to the end—even as Rome burned around them—those in charge of WCW felt that if they had nothing else, at least they’d always have television.

While Vince Russo had driven both buy rates and house show attendance into the toilet, many believed the Nitro and Thunder ratings were still OK. Sure, they weren’t even in the same universe as the Raw ratings, but many cable shows did less than a 1.0, and most Nitro and Thunder shows were in the 2.0 range. The reality, though, is that Thunder was dipping below the TBS ratings average, and in the last few months, the show’s rating was regularly surpassed by Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

 

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