Eric Bischoff Talks AEW Possibly Losing Sponsors Due To Hardcore Matches

Last week's AEW Dynamite featured Chris Jericho facing Nick Gage in a Hardcore Match that was filled with blood, brutality and a pizza cutter spot that caused issues with WarnerMedia sponsor Domino's Pizza.  During the main event, a split screen of a Domino's commercial showed an image of a pizza being sliced for a delivery while Gage was on the smaller screen holding a bloody pizza cutter after using it on Jericho's head. The pizza company disavowed the stunt and threatened to pull ads from future shows.

Former WCW President Eric Bischoff was critical of Gage's style of wrestling on a previous episode of the 83 Weeks Podcast prior to his match with Jericho. On this week's episode, Bischoff reiterated his criticism of Gage and spoke about how the wrestling business, in this case AEW, looks bad due to that hardcore style of wrestling.

"It's much to do about something that is really important," Bischoff said, regarding the Domino's incident on Dynamite. "These bloody hardcore matches, you do have two risks that are out there. The first risk is that you turn off your audience, I made reference that for every one person that may enjoy this bloody hardcore type of match, you run the risk of alienating two or three others that don't. I'm also the guy who has been saying, just because I don't like hardcore matches and generally I do not like hardcore matches unless motherf***ers, it's a logical part of a storyline, then I'm all in. But random hardcore matches for the sake of random hardcore matches, particularly when they get as gory as the AEW episode I saw when Moxley and whoever his opponent was were digging at each other with a fork. Okay, if you're going to go that far in your presentation of a hardcore match to satisfy whatever percentage of your audience that really digs that stuff, you're taking two calculated risks. You could turn off your audience and I will say a lot of people agreed with me by the way. You've got to service your audience, wrestling has to be a buffet. There has to be enough of everything for everybody to keep an entire audience happy so I get hardcore matches and why they're important because there's a portion of that audience that digs it. But, you could go too far with it.

"Then enter the second risk: you turn off advertisers or sponsors. The story breaks that Domino's was upset and I understand why they would be, I would be if I was a Domino's shareholder. I would be a little hot, I would question what the f*** is my advertising agency doing? How did this happen? Because it's not good folks, take it from the guy that wrote the book 'Controversy Creates Cash', there is some controversy that really works in your benefit. And particularly in the state of affairs that we find ourselves in today, there is a lot of controversy that can kick your ass and not be a benefit.

"You have this incident we're talking about, Domino's comes out and makes a statement and of course diehard wrestling fans and in particular, true blue hardcore AEW fans, are like 'oh it doesn't really matter. Another advertiser will come in and take their place.' Okay, maybe, probably but here's also what happens, and this is the part that nobody can understand because they've never been in the television business or the advertising business, here's what happens. You think Domino's Pizza is some guy that works in a cubicle, wherever Domino's is located, you think there's some executive somewhere whose job it is to buy ad time on television? The answer to that is no, Domino's has an advertising agency. Do you think Domino's is the only client that that advertising agency has? Do people not recognize that in the world of the advertising industry and media buying industry there are trades, there are newsletters, there are conversations, there is narrative. There are three levels above any executive in Turner that is going to have a much different perspective on this issue than a wrestling fan would because it can affect the bigger picture."

Bischoff also spoke about Pabst Blue Ribbon, who quickly sent a direct message to Tony Khan about taking over Domino's ad spot, explaining why the beer company isn't on the same level of Domino's.

"You think AT&T gives a flying f*** about whether or not there should be a hardcore match or not?" Bischoff said. "Probably not. Do you think they care that they have network sponsors, do you think they are concerned that there is something on their network in prime time on their most valuable network that is causing advertisers to threaten to pull the plug? You're damn right there is. Do you think there are not executives at Turner and Warner Media who are in charge of ad sales who are not concerned about the reverberation of the Domino's incident and how it could affect other potential advertisers to the network, not AEW?

"Then everybody got excited because Pabst Blue Ribbon decided 'Hey, I'll jump in.' Well, they're smart, they're taking advantage of the feeling and the wrestling fan and jumping right in, good for them. Guess what? They don't have a pot to piss in in terms of national advertising. Why is that? It's because Pabst Blue Ribbon isn't even a brewery, it's a brand. Pabst Blue Ribbon beer is produced and canned and distributed by independent bottlers all over the country. Therefore, they don't have nearly the advertising budget of a Domino's or a General Motors. For everybody to jump on that bandwagon and say 'Oh, it doesn't matter. f*** them, let them go, AEW will find another ad,' first of all, AEW isn't finding the advertisers, whoever's in charge of it [is]. It's a more complex risk and the fallout is more complex than the average wrestling fan will know. There's layers and levels to this that are not obvious to someone if you haven't been in this industry."

Former AEW Champion Jon Moxley took to Twitter quickly after hearing about Domino's Pizza being upset with the incident to tell the pizza company to "chill out" over the pizza cutter incident. Bischoff broke down what he ultimately thinks will be the ultimate fallout from this.

"In the end here's what I think is going to happen," Bischoff said. "I think everybody is going to recognize that it was probably a bad creative choice to go as far as it went. I do believe it was just a really bad coincidence. I don't know this, I just feel like this. I don't think anybody in their right mind would go 'hey, there's going to be a Domino's commercial in here so let's really take it...' I don't think that happened, I think it was a bad coincidence."

As far as the match in itself, Bischoff believes that AEW could have avoided several issues if they just held the match on a pay-per- view instead. The WWE Hall of Famer mentioned that it wouldn't have caused any problems if the people watching on pay-per-view saw it compared to the millions of viewers on AEW Dynamite.

"Those 150,000 people that would see it [on pay-per-view] would love it and are hardcore fans," Bischoff stated. "They're not going to bitch about it. You're not going to get the negative fallout on social media that the Domino's spot did. So absolutely, save [it for the pay-per-view]. Save that kind of thing for your pay-per-view, it makes your pay-per-view buzz worthy, it makes your pay-per-view different from what you provide weekly for free on television. Creatively there's a good reason to keep that kind of thing to pay-per-view but strategically, tactically, there's an even better reason to keep it on pay per view and that's to avoid the negative fallout we've had here.

"Like I said, I think AEW is going to go 'Okay, lesson learned. Sorry Mr. Warner Media. That won't happen again and here's how we'll make sure it wont happen again,' and everyone will move on. In a month from now, two months from now, nobody is going to be thinking about this."

Bischoff noted that if something similar to this incident happened again, it could have a major impact on AEW as a whole. Speaking from experience, Bischoff mentioned how this could lead to a major issue with AT&T, the parent company of WarnerMedia, not wanting to air AEW on Turner because a similar situation happened to him when he was running WCW.

"I think if it happens again and again then I think there's a much bigger risk of it having an adverse effect on AEWs business in the long term," Bischoff stated. "Let's fast forward, I don't know when AEWs contract is up with Turner, but let's just for the sake of argument say it's two years from now, at the end of that two years if AT&T has made the decision that this is not the kind of content we're comfortable with, much like I faced with AOL – Time Warner. When they looked at wrestling, it wasn't from the financial perspective that everybody thinks, and said 'Well, we just don't want that product in our catalog because we're selling something else and this doesn't fit with what we're selling.'

"I'm not saying it's going to happen, I hope it doesn't happen because I like Tony [Khan] and I like AEW and I want it to be successful but at the end of two years and the contract negotiation for whatever reason doesn't go the way that everybody would hope it would go, then you have to take your shit out and start talking to other networks. If you're bringing that 'Ya, but advertisers don't like you' baggage to the table, good luck with that."

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit 83 Weeks with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.