Chapter 1 -Atlanta 2001
In his corner office at the headquarters for the Worldwide Champions of Wrestling Association in Atlanta, President Harley Harrison ponders his future as an imminent buyout of his company looms near.
A bigger blow to his ego is that fact that the company is being purchased by his business rival and former best friend Rex Ruppert, owner of the Wild Wrestling Federation. His attempts to get investors together so he could buy the company himself were unsuccessful. The owner, Tyler Thompson, who owned one of the largest cable stations in the country, TBN, based in downtown Atlanta featured old movies, Major League Baseball, NBA Basketball, NASCAR, and Tuesday Night Titans, the flagship wrestling show of the WCW.
Rex Ruppert was by far the most successful wrestling promoter in the world. For years, his syndicated shows ruled cable TV ratings and dominated the pay-per-view market, which resulted in a lot of small wrestling promotions going out of business.
Before Ruppert became ruthless, professional wrestling was a very territorial business. Owners and promoters of wrestling promotions ran their businesses in “their” part of the country and did not impede upon the other promoters’ territories and would often exchange talent as a show of goodwill.
Ruppert noticed that while this was the way they ran the business, these laws were “unwritten” and not bound by any governing body or were never any written contracts. He figured if a promoter could run a successful business in his part of the country, then a great promoter with the right talent and resources could run a promotion that could go national and run shows all over the country. He went to other promoters’ territories, raided their talent, and took over their prime TV slots.
Harley worked his way up the ranks of the WCW and finally became president. He gave Ruppert a run for this money.
Harley was responsible for TNT becoming a ratings bonanza. He convinced the suits at TBN to spend money on the wresting promotion. Once he had access to the bosses’ checkbook, he went after the top wrestling talent in the country by offering big money guaranteed contracts.
Harley also let his talent have too much control over the product which turned out to be a mistake. With fat, guaranteed deals, the wrestlers got lazy and had little incentive to work hard. Like their checkbooks, their egos were inflated and self-serving.
Friends and co-workers constantly warned Harley that he was overspending and letting the inmates run the asylum. Harley felt the only way to compete was to offer the stars of the industry huge money and a more attractive working environment. However, Harley overestimated his spending and losses in the last year resulted in a $30 million-dollar loss. TBN no longer felt that WCW was worth losing revenue for and put the company up for sale.
It shocked the industry when Ruppert announced he was interested in buying the company that was his business rival for years. A few sports marketing companies showed minor interest, but none of them had the financial leverage that Ruppert had.
Harley spent six months working with an entertainment company out of Miami with the purpose of fronting him the money to buy WCW and keep Harley as president. Thompson would have preferred to sell to Harley, as he knew Harley would keep the company running. However, the Florida-based Company backed out when it was announced that upon the sale, the TNT would be canceled, and the station would not guarantee a TV time slot.
Thompson, a hardcore fan of wrestling, would have loved to have kept TNT on the air. He loved wrestling because 20 years earlier when he bought the small TV station from a local businessman, all he offered was old movies, some baseball and local news. Wrestling was the first thing that generated ratings for his station, so he remained loyal to keeping it on the air for the next 20 years. He eventually started syndicating the station throughout the South and once he opened his movie studio and got a deal to televise the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks games, he went national.
Thompson’s loyalty to pro wrestling ended when he successfully completed a merger of his station with a major national Internet Browser and Media Company out of Los Angeles called Showbiz Media. The merger guaranteed Thompson with an annual seven-figure salary for 10 years and a position on the Board of Directors. Showbiz would take over the programming for TBN and did not want wrestling in their future. With the merger, any departments that lost money would be dropped, especially a wrestling show with the bad stigma that the sport carried.
If Ruppert bought the company, Harley knew he would be the first one fired. The top stars of the industry would no longer have any negotiating power as only one company would have control of the pro wrestling industry in North America. While these men and women could go to Japan or Europe, the guarantees and money would not be consistent.
There was the chance that Harley could just simply talk to Ruppert and remind him of their old friendship, and maybe he would keep him on as president and still run the company. He knew better than that. It felt like the friendship was centuries ago.