SummerSlam has become WWE’s No. 2 annual event behind WrestleMania, though no one ever imagined it would get as big as it has. The first SummerSlam happened in 1988 and was just planned as a wrestling pay-per-view in the summer. Bruce Prichard was an announcer for WWE back then, and he talked about the conception of SummerSlam on his Something to Wrestle podcast.
“I remember the meeting very vividly with Vince McMahon telling me [about the concept],” Prichard said. “I don’t know who came up with [the name], but all I remember sitting in a meeting and Vince McMahon saying, ‘We are going to do SummerSlam.’ I’m like, ‘What is SummerSlam?’ He said that we are going to do a summer pay per view, and get this, The Mega Bucks vs The Mega Powers [will be the main event].
“I just heard it out of the blue right before WrestleMania [IV] that this is what we are doing. This one wasn’t something that was talked about a lot concept wise as far as what we are going to do. It was simply about having an event, and I don’t think that anybody really even thought, even going back to Survivor Series, that it was going to be an annual deal. We just thought it was going to be this big event and go to the Garden and have this show on pay-per-view. So, in 1988, when we started to work on it, we didn’t know that there was going to be a SummerSlam 1989, much less a SummerSlam 30 years later on pay-per-view.”
Heading into 1988, WWE had just two pay-per-view events: WrestleMania and Survivor Series. The first Royal Rumble took place in January 1988, but it was on cable instead of PPV. SummerSlam debuted on PPV in August 1988 and then the second Royal Rumble debuted on PPV in January of the following year. Thus, WWE doubled the number of its big events in just the span of a couple of months and Prichard says that’s when WWE began focusing more on its pay-per-views instead of house shows.
“We didn’t even think that The Royal Rumble was going to be a big event. Here we had done a WrestleMania, and then we were going to do a summer event and then we will do a winter one with Survivor Series. Royal Rumble wasn’t even in the picture yet. It hadn’t come into the picture until after the success of SummerSlam. Vince McMahon got to thinking, well, hell let’s do another one. Then we will have four after that. It wasn’t even in the discussion yet. That is how crazy it is when you think about it.
“Now, Vince McMahon probably was thinking this the entire time where he was going to do one [PPV] every month, but the model was more about house shows and going into local towns, which was how you made your money. That was the model of the entire company. It was all about producing house shows and doing live events, which was how you got a return on your investments. The one hour show [Prime Time Wrestling] was a one hour commercial to promote everything else.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.