Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wrestling Conventions

By " The Big Cheese" Sal Corrente

I have been keeping up with the feedback from this weekend’s conventions and talking to some of the talent that attended. I am sure I will be speaking to more as the weekend goes on. I want to say that I empathize with the promoters and I sympathize with the fans. A convention, especially like the one Turnbuckle Promotions put on, is like wrestling a grizzly bear. I promoted WrestleReunion 1 and 2 both of them huge conventions. It was a major learning experience. Mistakes were made along the way and, quite honestly, without the help of Rob Russen, Jimmy Hart and Tom Prichard the whole event could have imploded. It was a six month day to day effort in getting ready for the event. The majority of that work was done by Rob Russen. I handled the big picture stuff, but all the day to day duties were handled by Rob Russen. Of course Rob and I were both running around the days of the convention itself. The efforts of Tom Prichard and Jimmy Hart were recognized the days of the event itself. I want to say clearly one of these monster events takes more effort than it can ever be worth financially. I greatly under estimated what happens when you sell VIP packages that GUARANTEE people everyone’s autograph. It should be every promoter’s goal to give the fans everything that was promised them. It should be the fans responsibility not to cry because they aren't getting more than was promised. I assure you this happens all the time. In the selling of the so called “VIP” packages people are treated as anything but VIP's. They wait on ridiculously long lines and are herded in like cattle to meet a star for what seems to be mere seconds. If you are going to get into the convention business, understand that the larger your convention is, the more help that you need in running the event. You will need qualified help not just aunts, uncles, friends, brothers and sisters. You need people who understand the business, that know how to talk to the stars and can handle HIGH pressure situations. It’s not to say that you can not and shouldn't use people close to you to help with your event. It is ok you use them but use them properly, especially in the box office. If you do use them use them for things that do not require knowledge of our business and if you're in it for the long haul perhaps they will gain experience and knowledge. They will be even more of a help at future events.

If you are a wrestling fan like I was, these events are a dream come true. In reality, unfortunately many people come away feeling under whelmed. I will say that if you attend an event that sells hundreds and hundreds of VIP tickets to fans then please come with the expectation of being stuck in a line for several hours and have a few seconds with a star and hope the star isn't worn out by the time you get there. If you have ever attended the opening of a restaurant or any other business you should also understand no matter how much the promoter wants to please you he is bound to let you down on some of your expectations. If you assume that the wrestlers are employees, and you should, understand they are first day employees with NO TRAINING. I understand that by now most of the wrestlers have been to conventions but they all have differences on how they are run and different physical plans. If a waitress jumps from restaurant to restaurant they still need training to understand how this new place functions. If you are thinking clearly and without emotion you can see where the problems will occur.

I have come to learn through experience, painful and exhausting experience, that to sell a lot of VIP memberships and hope you get through the agony is a bad business model. Also, there is a point of diminishing returns when adding on star after star no longer equates to additional sales or revenue. It just doesn't make financial sense. When you are booking stars for these events you have to keep the “I am booking certain guys because I am a mark for them" theory to a minimum. Allow yourself three, if you must and then book from a point of business only. It is critical that you have "A" list stars. They are the ones people come to see in our business assuming that you can not get any current WWE stars to attend. I will tell you that at this time some of the stars who actually attract the fans, in my opinion, are Bruno Sammartino, Bret Hart, Diamond Dallas Page, Jimmy Hart, Roddy Piper, Ted DiBiase, Ricky Steamboat, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Not only do these guys bring out fans but you can get main stream publicity for them. The media is willing to talk to these guys and that is FREE PUBLICITY for you. It is a huge plus. I am sure there are some other names out there which are obvious but priced so high that it doesn’t make financial sense to book them. If you’re attracting hardcore fans there is hardly anyone better than Jim Cornette for these events. You will find that for Q&A’s Jim Cornette, Dusty Rhodes and Terry Funk are top notch and the fans never get tired of listening to them talk.

The people who run these events want to make wrestling fans dreams come true. They are sincere in that desire. The fans want to meet their heroes and have a great time doing it. You would think that when people all share a common goal it would be easier, but that is not the case. The people running these events, for the most part, are not business people. They are people in business trying to learn on the job. The fans paying their money expect perfection and they should, but I haven’t seen that happen yet. Perfection is an unrealistic, un-doable expectation.

If you are a promoter looking to make a fortune from one of these events, I can tell you that the chances are small. There has been some money made at the very beginning when these events were basically new to everyone. It has since become a way for wrestlers to make a lot of money and promoters to lose a lot of money or spend a lot of time and energy to hopefully break even. If you are just doing it because you love it and can afford the potential loss by all means feel free to live your dream. Just don't disappoint the fans. It is common knowledge that many of the wrestlers behave poorly in a situation where they don’t have a guarantee and can only make money by selling merchandise. It is common knowledge who these individuals are. If this kind of information is not known by you then you are someone who shouldn’t run a show at all. If you are including a wrestling event with your convention don’t book the typical Indy show type of event. The fans expect to see known legendary feuds and things they can’t see every other weekend. You have to make the whole convention special from beginning to end and close strong with great matches based on established feuds.

I suggest smaller events like the one that was in NJ this weekend that had just one real “A” list headliner. In this case was Bret Hart. What I don’t understand about it was he had Bret and Jim Neidhart booked. How could he let the NY promoter book Jimmy Hart? I would have gone for the Hart Foundation reunion for sure. I did receive a call from someone who told me Bret Hart was signing with his IPOD in his ears. I am sorry but that is totally unacceptable. (Since the initial posting of this article the Bret Hart issue appears to be false, it is understood how the mistake was made but I have been told Bret was a total professional the entire time)These fans are paying money in times where the economy is unstable and gas is out of control. They must get the time and attention they paid for. With that being said, he ran a small manageable event. It appears that most of the stars were friendly with the fans. He only had one no show and a reasonable budget. This event had a chance to make money and I hope it did. I can tell you from my experience that the event in Long Island was an event doomed to failure from the beginning. It also has the stigma of a cancellation by Jesse Ventura. I am not sure if Ventura was ever booked. We wanted him for WrestleReunion but he wanted SIXTY THOUSAND dollars for a ninety minute speech. Did they really have this guy booked at all? If they did and he canceled, I am sure they saved a lot of money by him not coming. Either way, wrestling fans have the right to believe that the advertised talent will be there with no exceptions. Talent that is not contracted and verified cannot be advertised and promoted. Where is the contract Ventura signed to appear? I would be scanning it and making it available on the internet for credibility sake. I say that no one should be advertised without a contract, which is the first rule of conventions. Also, do not book non- wrestling talent at wrestling events. All in all wrestling fans want wrestling people not other kinds of celebrities. The same can be said of celebrity autograph shows. The fans don’t want wrestlers at most of them. They are looking for movie and TV people not wrestlers. I am very involved in these types of shows and wrestlers as a rule do not do well at these kinds of events.

Now the good news ... a lot of people turned out at both events from what I am told. That is great news. It shows that even with the recent tragedies that occurred, the fans still have an interest. The wrestlers, for the most part, conducted themselves well. I do hear that there were some bad apples in the bunch. That becomes a bad situation for everyone and these people should not be invited back. No matter what your problems are with the promoter that has to be handled in the back. You should never ruin these events for the fans. I can’t be sure what financial situation these conventions ended up in since I didn’t write the checks, but I am betting that one lost huge and the other made some money. Did they make enough for it to be worth the effort? That question can only be answered in the heart of the person running the show. The next big convention is being run in San Francisco in October at the Cow Palace. I offered some advice to these guys that they ignored. They assured me they knew what they were doing. I will now offer advice to the wrestlers scheduled to appear ... if you don’t have fifty percent of your money before you leave for the event and then get the other half when you arrive do not get upset if your money isn’t available when you leave. This event has some huge names booked and is making a lot of promises along with some outrageous claims of tickets sold in advance etc. I wish all of you involved with that event, on both ends, a lot of luck. I can also tell you I am available as a consultant for anyone wanting to run these shows. I can promise you that I will save you money and keep you focused and you will get all the benefits of my experience and war wounds. I don’t expect to hear from any of you though. I realize everyone thinks they can do this on their own and will no matter what I or anyone else says. There are more details to take care of for any one person to handle and if they aren’t taken care of expect to be TRASHED on the internet, its going to happen.

In closing, if you are running an event, have all the money prepared and ready on the front end. If the rumors are true and some people did not get paid this weekend. There is no explanation other than incompetence for this. The talent are not your partners they are your employees pay them when your supposed to.