March 7, 2004
Bischoff changed business
By Don Callis
When the former executive producer of one of Ted Turner's biggest cable successes and a man who generated over $250 million in revenue in one year gives a seminar on marketing, people tend to show up in droves. Such was the case this past week when former Time Warner executive Eric Bischoff gave a special guest lecture on marketing to the students of two Georgia universities.
IN THE TRENCHES
It is always nice for a student when you get a person coming to talk to you about your chosen field who has actually done it successfully in the outside world (that is, not within the cozy confines of academia). My favorite lectures in university were when CEOs were brought in to talk to us. Nothing against our profs, who were great, but the chaps who had been in the trenches seemed to resonate with students more.
While Eric was not the CEO of Time Warner, he was a vital cog in the success of their television properties, brought to the table by none other than legendary entrepreneur Ted Turner. Eric inherited a second rate company, one that was not even considered to be in the same universe as the then-WWF, despite being the only other company running at the time. Remember the old Snapple slogan "Happy to be No. 3?" Well, WCW was No. 2 by default but looked like they were happy to look like No. 5.
Bischoff changed all of that when he brought his corporate raider attitude to the game. He quickly realized that the only place he could compete with Vince McMahon was in money and television flexibility, because his boss was a billionaire, and owned the cable networks. Bischoff put the money to good use after convincing Turner that an attack strategy was the only way they could deliver the type of ratings they needed to put Vince out of business.
Bischoff quickly signed Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage (reviving what were thought to be dead careers), and then, using a huge money offer, scooped two of WWF's most over talent -- Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. He paid the four of them more than Vince could have afforded at the time, and, God love him, started the process that would drive wrestler salaries through the roof for several years after.
It would be unfair to cast Bischoff as someone who simply had the key to Turner's vault, because that would ignore the fact that his creativity and aggressiveness took those high-priced talents and placed them in compelling stories that not only delivered ratings, but an entirely new demographic of younger, hipper viewers.
Suddenly the business was "cool" again. Perhaps his least recognized accomplishment was pushing McMahon to fight a war that brought out the best in Vince and saw the creation of Steve Austin, Mick Foley and the Rock, to name just a few. Bischoff's winning streak continued for over 80 weeks, before burnout and a poisoned corporate culture drove the company into huge losses and eventually, out of business.
But in kicking off the Monday Night Wars, Bischoff changed everything, and in the process made the business bigger than it had ever been.
Don't you wish you were a university student in Georgia?
If you are interested in re-living the Monday Night Wars, WWE has a DVD out that chronicles them rather nicely. It is so popular, that it is currently on back order. ... Garbonzos and NHB Radio invite fans of WrestleMania to come down and watch Wrestlemania 20 next Sunday at Garbonzos, which will be offering lots of great food and prizes. Tickets are available at the CanadInns Fort Garry Express and are only $5.