During a recent episode of the 83 Weeks Podcast, Eric Bischoff talked about attempting to purchase WCW in early 2001. In January of 2001, Bischoff and his partners, Fusient Media Ventures, signed a letter of intent to buy the company. However, after the head of Turner Broadcasting Jamie Kellner decided to cut off WCW from all its television networks, Bischoff and his partners decided it wasn’t worth it to buy the company without having television. He explained why they made that decision on the podcast, stating the importance of television for a wrestling company.
“To me the biggest risk was television,” Bischoff said. “A wrestling company without television is going to have a real hard time surviving more than a month or two. Look at TNA, when the original plan was we don’t need television, we’ll just do a pay per view every week. I know that sounded good on paper, but the very idea was flawed at its core because you need television to drive that audience.
“Television is your storytelling opportunity and you funnel a certain percentage of that audience that is very passionate about the product and story and you’re able to move them to buy the pay per view. The biggest risk was whether or not we had television.”
Bischoff continued to mention how his experience over the years would have taught him valuable lessons on how to handle owning WCW in 2001. He said the focus would’ve shifted into an area he believes needs the most fixing in wrestling today.
“By 2000, I had a much different perspective of creative than I did in 1998,” Bischoff said. “I had the advantage of more experience under my belt and 20-20 hindsight. Hopefully, I would like to think that I’m an intelligent enough person to learn from my mistakes. It was really about focusing on creative.”
Bischoff also mentioned how he and his partners wanted to focus on creative and bring in writers who wouldn’t tell the wrestling stories but create creative experiences. He said wrestling companies today should listen closely because this is the way to execute great storytelling.
“If you take people who have great experience in creative with the wrestling product, what that really means is you know the audience,” Bischoff said. “You know what’s gong to stimulate the audience, you know what the audience really wants because you’ve tried it a bunch of different ways. If you can find the combination of great wrestling creative people with a lot of expense, some of them former wrestlers, some of them maybe not. Take a guy like Keith Mitchell, he would be great on a creative team. If you could amass a team of people like that, find 3 or 4 you don’t need 20.
“There is an architecture, there’s a formula to everything. If you’re a stand up comedian, chances are you have a formula to find your material. Just like there’s a formula for wrestling, or a movie or a great television show. If you don’t understand that formula and you don’t understand the architecture that formula provides, all you’re doing is slapping stories up against the wall and hoping they work. That’s really what wrestling has been doing for 30 years, the last 20 for sure. I still think today it’s the solution, I know it was in WWE because I watched it. The wrestling side of things always seems to overwhelm the writing side of things.”
A few weeks ago during an interview with Everything Is With Kory and Ant, Bischoff mentioned how AEW and WWE are not growing the wrestling audience. Bischoff continued to say he doesn’t see how they’ve done anything to change the way stories have been told in wrestling from the past 20-30 years.
“That challenge still exists today,” Bischoff said. “A couple weeks ago I made a comment, it certainly read more critical than I wanted it to when I said it. I referenced the fact that WWE or AEW aren’t really doing anything any different than has been done 20 years ago. They’re doing it with different people, with different outfits. Other than [the COVID situation] which was a necessity to stop the bleeding more than anything else which didn’t advance the product, neither AEW or WWE are coming up with anything really new or big to have the same impact that Nitro did in 1995, 96, 97.
“We changed the way the product was being presented. We changed the audience that we were marketing to. That strategy of being different worked. That strategy of going after males [ages] 18-49 worked. Guess what? The world changed, 2 years later guess who was going after 18-49 males? Because the world changed. WWF followed our footsteps.”
Bischoff continued to talk about how WCW starting the Monday Night Wars was the ultimate push for the wrestling business that put it over the top. He said the business as a whole benefited and garnered more interest because of it and the chance WCW took doesn’t exist in wrestling today between AEW vs. WWE.
“The entire industry grew and it started with Nitro,” Bischoff said.” When Nitro launched, it immediately started to grow the audience. We weren’t just taking away from WWE, we were adding to the overall audience. The industry all began to grow. Not just WCW, not just WWF, both companies began to grow.
“The Monday Night Wars grew the audience to the point where on any given night there were 10 million people watching wrestling because we grew the industry as a result of making significant changes in the way the product was presented, the audience we were trying to attract and the inherent competition between Coke and Pepsi, WCW and WWF. None of that exists today.”
Bischoff talked about time slots on television for wrestling and how moving them can hurt your company. He said the audience doesn’t belong to the company, it belongs to the network and the company uses that television audience to get them to pay for the PPV.
“Anytime you move a time slot you are going to suffer to some degree,” Bischoff said. “It’s almost never a net gain, it’s almost always a situation where you’re going to lose an audience. AEW benefits from the audience, WWE benefits from the audience because it can drive them to pay per view, it can drive them to arenas, they can engage in sponsorship sales. There’s all types of reasons that the producer benefits from it, but that audience belongs to the network.
Bischoff also talked about what would have happened with WCW pay-per-views if he was successful in buying the company. He said he actually planned on reducing the amount of big shows they had each year and explained why.
“That was never a part of the conversation, we may have reduced some of them,” Bischoff said. “When everything is running at peak performance levels, its okay to add a pay per view, but when things are down, it’s better to regroup, reassess the use of your resources and maybe divest yourself of the legacy pay per views that really weren’t doing all that well.
“Spring time can be a tough time of the year, the April pay per view can be tough. WrestleMania does well but that’s one of the reasons a non-WWE ppv tends to suffer in March and April and even into May because the WWE and WrestleMania take such a massive amount of money out of the marketplace. Trying to compete during that period of time and even survive during that time with a pay per view may not be the smartest use of resources. It’s different when you’re hot, WCW in 97,98 but by 2000? I probably would’ve eliminated March and April and considered May.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit 83 Weeks with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.