but not to Vince McMahon
wrestling franchise goes to Fusient
has unloaded its flagging wrestling outfit, World Championship Wrestling,
for an undisclosed sum to the New York media company Fusient Media
Turner will retain a minority interest in the WCW, and its
shows Monday Nitro Live and WCW Thunder will continue to air on TNT and
TBS Superstation, respectively.
The sale put to rest persistent rumors that the league
might be acquired by Vince McMahon, head of the WCW’s main competition,
World Wrestling Federation. McMahon was reportedly unable to negotiate a
deal to the satisfaction of Viacom, the WWF’s exclusive television
partner. Viacom apparently was not enthusiastic about McMahon getting
involved with programming for arch-rival Turner’s networks.
The deal is expected to close within 30-45 days,
according to Fusient president Brad Bedol, who will be named CEO of the
WCW. Before creating Fusient, Bedol and partner Stephen Greenberg founded
the Classic Sports Network, later sold to ESPN.
Eric Bischoff, who presided over the WCW in its glory days
and was brought back last March to bail it out, will remain president of
The WCW, while still the WWF’s closest competitor in
the wrestling world, is barely limping along. In fact, it’s limping
backwards—the company lost somewhere between $60 million and $80 million
for Turner last year alone.
The league enjoyed several years of success during the
mid-1990s, during which time it actually knocked the WWF off its perch
with the help of proven (but aging) talent like Hulk Hogan and
"Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
But since late 1998 the fall has been swift and brutal.
WCW’s cable programs and pay-per-view events alike consistently rate way
below those of the WWF.
"I remember in January of 1999 it was clearly a
dogfight [between the WCW and the WWF]. The WCW would rate a 4.6, and now
they’re doing a fraction of that. They made a mockery of their product.
Instead of giving the fans what they wanted, they gave the fans what the
writers wanted," says Dave Meltzer, editor of Wrestling Observer
Fusient saw the WCW’s financial situation as a buying
opportunity, and they believe they have the personnel to turn it around.
"Our goal always was to find undervalued media
assets, whatever they may be. We think we’ve assembled a really terrific
group of people in our company with backgrounds in sports, cable and
entertainment all around," says Tom Lassally, president of Fusient
Media Ventures West Coast. Lassally, a former Warner Brothers Studios
exec, is the man credited with bringing the WCW to Fusient.
Meltzer says that Turner Broadcasting and parent Time Warner
mismanaged the WCW into the ratings basement.
"Theoretically, wrestling ought to be within the Time
Warner empire. But they kept hiring people to run wrestling who didn’t
really understand wrestling. And [TBS president of general entertainment
networks] Brad Siegel’s run in charge was not good at all. He made a lot
of bad and impatient calls. It was akin to a losing team bringing in a new
coach every 11 weeks," says Meltzer.
Fusient is saying little at this point about what changes it
"We might cut back on the live events and pay-per-view
for a while. It costs a lot to do 200-plus touring shows a year,"
"I think that with any product you can’t make
promises," Bedol said in a conference call yesterday morning.
Bedol will take responsibility for marketing and promotion,
while ad sales will continue to be handled by the Turner networks.
Bischoff will remain in charge of programming and production.
Fusient’s Lassally insists that the WCW does not define
itself as the WWF’s competitor.
"I don’t think our goal is to out-WWF the WWF. We’d
like to be advertiser-friendly, and we don’t think the way to entertain
people is to have more craft and more titillation. They do what they do
well, and we’d like to do something slightly different," he says.
Still, Wrestling Observer’s Meltzer says that the WCW could
learn a thing or two about strategy from the WWF.
"The winning formula for wrestling has always been
to constantly bring in new guys and push them over the top. But the WCW
didn’t elevate talent. Instead they consistently wrote for ratings week
Despite the WWF’s strong showing, Meltzer says that as a
whole, wrestling is going through a tough period.
"The WWF is doing a great business, but they’re
the only ones. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, there were
always alternatives. Now, with so many of the fans it’s WWF or nothing.
So there’s really only one product."
-Gabriel Spitzer is
a staff writer for
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