There’s absolutely no denying that Vince McMahon is better at marketing professional wrestling or sports entertainment than any other promoter to give the idea a try. By taking his father’s WWE Universe national and then global, McMahon turned a small regional company into a billion-dollar franchise known and respected worldwide as the biggest wrestling organization ever to exist. And yet, the man still makes mistakes. Big, ridiculous, absurd, impossible to comprehend mistakes.
Even when Vince McMahon was at his absolute peak, the man made some truly bizarre moves with powerful repercussions to his bank account. More fans than ever before were watching WWE during the Attitude Era, a fact reflected by ratings, ticket sales, and rabidly intense crowds screaming their lungs out each week on Raw and SmackDown. Superstars like The Rock, Chris Jericho, Mankind, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin were constantly batting on all cylinders, producing the most entertaining matches and promos WWE had ever seen. Unfortunately, not everyone in the roster could quite match their talents, and what McMahon chose to do with them could often prove to be costly.
On top of the weird wrestling decisions Vince made during the Attitude Era, there’s also the fact he first experienced what it was to be a certified billionaire during this time. This means he literally had millions of dollars just to “experiment” with, and a man this bold was bound to spend it on some pretty unique research. Unsurprisingly, most of it failed, only for Vince to bounce back and try it all over again after regrouping his funds. For all the specifics, keep reading to learn about 15 absurd ways Vince McMahon threw away money during the Attitude Era.
15 Purchasing A Racecar For Bob “Spark Plug” Holly
Vince McMahon’s first mistake in giving future WWE Hardcore and Tag Team Champion Bob “Hardcore” Holly a gimmick as a racecar driver was thinking a wrestler with a gimmick as a racecar driver made the slightest bit of sense. Mistake number two was going all in on the idea to sell it, creating an actual WWE stock car for Holly to drive in various races of the All Pro Series. The car alone cost several hundred thousand dollars, and the cost of operating it and flying Holly and his pit crew around the country to various tracks couldn’t have been cheap, either.
Worst of all, this incident actually happened throughout 1995, just before the Attitude Era truly blew up, meaning WWE barely had enough money to afford the insanity.
Vince’s bank account was so tight he actually gave up on the idea and cut his losses. Don’t feel bad for Sparky Plugg, though — he got to keep the extremely expensive car for free. No wonder he was so loyal to WWE.
14 Building The Max Moon Costume
Looking at the success of certain Japanese wrestlers including Jushin Liger, it’s clear there’s potential for crossover between sports entertainment and anime. Well, in Japan, anyway. The idea sounds like less of a sure thing in America, especially if given to a performer who doesn’t get the genre. WWE made this mistake in 1991, which was a bit before the Attitude Era started, but it concerns a wrestler who would become a star in that time, and for WCW.
By botching the Max Moon debacle and giving future US Champion Konnan a gimmick, he shouldn’t have cost WWE a nice chunk of change at the time, but it also put money in their top competitors' pockets when the Monday Night War was at its most heated.
No matter how the move hurt Vince McMahon down the line, there was also the fact the Max Moon costume cost $13,000, and not only did Konnan think the thing was so stupid he left the company, but the guy they found to replace him didn’t do well with it either, making it a huge waste.
13 The Tragedy Of Owen Hart
Before we even get into this, it needs to be stated that the true tragedy of Over the Edge 1999 had nothing to do with the money Vince McMahon and his WWE Universe lost in the aftermath of the event. Much worse than any mere financial problems, beloved wrestler Owen Hart fell to his death during a stunt gone horribly wrong prior to a match against The Godfather. Obviously, it’s not like McMahon or anyone else planned for things to go this way, and WWE aired many respectful tributes to Owen in the following weeks lamenting this truly horrific accident. Nonetheless, as the employers who instructed Hart to perform the stunt, WWE was also responsible for paying Owen’s remaining family members for his wrongful death.
When Owen’s widow Martha sued, WWE eventually settled for $18 million, all of which could have been avoided,
including Owen’s death itself, if McMahon had only realized there was no need to make Owen do that stupid stunt.
12 The Year Of Diesel Power
In some respects, it could be argued Diesel just missed the Attitude Era, jumping to WCW right before it officially began in earnest. Then again, others have also suggested it was Diesel himself who predicted the era at the 1995 Survivor Series when he destroyed ringside cameras and other various WWE property after losing the World Championship to Bret Hart. The catch to Diesel potentially kickstarting the era is that his character was absolutely terrible prior to doing so, with his year long reign on top of the company leading to the lowest ratings in Raw history at the time (until recently).
Ticket and Pay-Per-View sales were also drastically down during the Diesel power era, yet for whatever reason, Vince McMahon just wouldn’t give up on the guy, basically throwing money away each time another month went by while he held the belt.
It eventually got so bad WWE couldn’t book arenas and had to run Raw out of high school gyms, all because no one had any interest in paying to watch Diesel.
11 Completely Botching The Invasion
Theoretically speaking, the year or so after WWE finally won the Monday Night Wars and purchased WCW should have been the biggest and most extravagant victory lap in pro wrestling history. On top of that momentous occasion, the company also held WrestleMania X7 mere weeks after the purchase, considered one of the best shows they’ve ever produced. With complete control of the sports entertainment market and everything firing on all cylinders, Vince McMahon should have been poised to become even more of a billionaire, and then, The Invasion happened.
Rather than bring together the best of both worlds, McMahon made the remnants of both WCW and ECW look entirely pathetic, while his own WWE looked petty, arrogant, and just plain unlikable.
Gone was the momentum built throughout the Attitude Era, crashed to a halt by an egomaniac using his programming to boast rather than continue making money. Ratings immediately started spiralling downward during this time frame, a trend that has continued to this day, suggesting McMahon might still be losing money as an aftereffect of this one major mistake.
10 Trying To Bring Back The Warrior
Sometimes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try again,” can feel like truly terrible advice. Case in point, Vince McMahon’s repeated attempts to revive the star that was The Ultimate Warrior, one of his most popular creations in the late '80s and early '90s.
Unfortunately, Warrior’s drawing power wasn’t quite as it seemed, with his WWE Championship reign paling in comparison to those of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage in terms of ticket sales.
Despite this, Warrior felt he deserved similar paycheques to those icons, causing Vince to fire him in 1991. For whatever reason, WWE brought Warrior back the next year, only to face similar results. Amazingly, Vince did it again in 1996, just as the Attitude Era was beginning. Of course, there’s no great story about the Warrior getting an all new gritty character, because he barely lasted a whole three months this time around before getting fired for acting out again. There’s no way Warrior would have made that comeback without Vince shelling out big bucks for him to do so, and it’s safe to say that whatever McMahon paid was too much.
9 Not So Secret Funding Of ECW
Truth be told, it’s hard to quantify whether or not this one exactly proved to be a “waste of money” in the long run.
To fans of ECW, the fact Vince McMahon secretly gave Paul Heyman some $587,000 to keep the hardcore Philadelphia promotion in operations made him an angel investor providing years of incredible content.
Anyone else might note the downside in that he gave over half a million dollars to a company that was never able to pay him back a single dime. Of course, there is the fact that ECW was gradually providing WWE with a few ready made stars, such as Raven, Tazz, and Rob Van Dam, but it’s not like Vince fully capitalized on that fact when they jumped ship. If anything, WCW took slightly better advantage of it than he did, or at least to an equal degree, which means Vince was basically funding his competition’s developmental program.
8 Buying The Rights To “Gangrel”
Chances are, somewhere around 95% of people who actually recognize the name “Gangrel” think about the former WWE superstar and leader of The Brood when they hear it. Though he never achieved any championship success, Gangrel’s unique character and fiery entrance made him a memorable piece of the Attitude Era, and therefore it’s understandable Vince McMahon would offer the guy a contract and keep him around for a little while. However, the confusing part comes in naming him “Gangrel,” a seemingly made-up word trademarked by White Wolf Publishing for use in role-playing games.
This meant that every single time Gangrel’s name appeared on WWE television, advertising, and especially video games, White Wolf received an absurd amount of money in royalty fees.
This whole ordeal was especially stupid considering Vince could have just as easily named Gangrel absolutely anything else without having to pay anyone a dime. The wrestler in question has admitted the whole thing was a serious hassle, adding he believes he’ll never be offered a Legends contract because of it.
7 Opening WWF New York
There’s no business prospect riskier than opening a restaurant, and that goes tenfold in a prime real estate like Times Square, smack dab in the heart of Manhattan. Of course, Vince McMahon is an extremely bold businessman, so words like these merely set the challenge he took when opening WWF New York in 1999. It almost looked like a good idea on the surface, with sell out crowds choosing the restaurant/bar as their drinking establishment of choice on Raw, SmackDown, and Pay-Per-View nights. Unfortunately, business wasn’t so hot during the rest of the week, and why would it be? Minus the wrestling, it was just another restaurant serving chicken wings and beer.
A business model that only makes money three out of seven days of the week simply wasn’t going to work, leading to a reported loss of $35.5 million in the four short years it was open.
Granted, WWE also made $16.3 million selling wrestling merchandise from the location, but that still leaves a whole lot of red ink Vince could have avoided simply by never entering the restaurant biz.
6 Trying To Turn The Debbie Reynolds Hotel Into A WWE Casino
File this one firmly under the “what if” file, as WWE barely saw it halfway through before giving up entirely.
For reasons the world may never understand, Vince McMahon chose to purchase the Debbie Reynolds’ Hollywood Hotel and the adjoining casino in late 1998 for $10.65 million.
The move came at the heat of the Attitude Era, with initial rumors suggesting it could be the site of a WWE museum or an actual, physical Hall of Fame. Since it was already a hotel and casino, there was always the option WWE would simply continue with that theme after slapping their logos all over the place, as well. The idea of a WWE hotel only seemed more plausible as the Attitude Era raged on and the company only grew increasingly popular, yet McMahon and company didn’t really do anything of note with the property for year. Eventually, they sold it back to a real estate group in 2000. While WWE earned $11.2 million for the sale, upkeep costs for the building couldn’t have been cheap, definitely pushing this one into the loss category.
5 Forgetting About Jeff Jarrett’s Contract
It goes without saying Vince McMahon leads an incredibly hectic life, and the craziest months of all for the WWE CEO may have been late 1999. WWE had higher ratings than ever before during this time, and the company’s top stars remain amongst the most popular in company history, but Vince had two huge problems: his biggest wrestler, Steve Austin, was severely injured and desperately needed time off, and his head writer, Vince Russo, had officially quit the company.
These two disasters distracted McMahon’s staff so badly, they legitimately forgot WWE Intercontinental Champion Jeff Jarrett’s contract was set to run out the night before No Mercy 1999, where he was supposed to lose the belt to Chyna.
Because WWE wasn’t paying Jarrett to appear that night, he was technically a free agent, and had the option to head straight to WCW with the gold. McMahon knew this couldn’t happen, so he did whatever he could to ensure Jarrett would appear for that Pay-Per-View and lose to Chyna, which he did — after receiving a check for $300,000. No wonder it took so long for Vince to forgive Jeff and induct him into the Hall of Fame.
4 Doing Whatever It Took To Steal…Marc Mero?
With all due respect to the talents of one “Marvelous” Marc Mero, he never exactly had what it took to become a top star in the WWE Universe, not to mention WCW or anywhere else. Had Vince McMahon seen any of Mero’s work as Johnny B. Badd, or heard his life story, he certainly would have figured this out — Mero didn’t even train to be a wrestler per se, he was specifically hired to play the Badd character, and that was really all he knew how to do. Despite this reputation, when Mero’s initial WCW contract was up in 1996, McMahon initiated an act of Monday Night War by doing absolutely whatever he had to do to ensure the former three-time Television Champion would jump ship.
Vince got what he wanted, albeit at a great cost, giving Mero the first guaranteed contract in WWE history, which happened to be for a whole lot of money.
Unable to justify the high price tag, Mero meandered in the midcard for three short years before calling it quits, rarely appearing in the business from then on.
3 Mark Henry’s Insane Rookie Contract
The only difference between Marc Mero and Mark Henry is that the founder of the Hall of Pain eventually paid back Vince McMahon’s investment on his talents. The story is even crazier this time around: for reasons no sane businessperson could understand, McMahon offered Henry a $10 million, 10-year contract basically sight unseen, immediately regretting the idea when he found out the so-called World’s Strongest Man couldn’t actually wrestle. The plus side here is that Henry had a whole lot of time to develop and learn as a performer, as neither he nor Vince had no way out of their initial agreement.
Even so, those first 10 years were pretty much a total bust. The only angles Henry appeared in at all were total jokes, and usually offensive ones at that, rumored to be an attempt at getting him to quit.
Instead of giving a guy a million dollars a year just to mock him, Vince could have made a much more shrewd decision and simply never hired an unseen rookie in the first place.
2 Wasting Millions On The XFL
Vince McMahon truly never learns. Anyone who doesn’t feel like reading this entry can just wait a few years, because it’s bound to happen all over again really soon. In what was easily the biggest financial disaster of the Attitude Era, McMahon decided he wasn’t just the top name in sports entertainment, but that he could also dominate real sports, specifically football, taking on the NFL.
He wasn’t alone, either, with NBC on his side to offer significant TV time and somewhere around $50 million in funding an alternative football league called the XFL.
Vince and WWE matched that amount, which was disastrous for all concerned parties, as the entire league folded after mere weeks of terribly, harshly criticized play. Ultimately, both Vince and WWE lost $35 million on the ridiculous idea, and yet in 2020, McMahon fully plans on trying it all over again. At least our inevitable list about the ways Vince throws money away in the modern era will be easy to write.
1 Stock Crumbles As The Era Begins To Wane
From a financial standpoint, the biggest mistake Vince McMahon in regards to Attitude Era was letting it end. Critics can say all they want about how a child-friendly business is ultimately better for sponsors, and that’s true, but the fact remains WWE simply attracted more viewers back when it was gritty and adult-oriented than it does in the modern era. Granted, it also didn’t help that the two biggest stars of the Attitude Era by far, The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, both left the company in a manner of months, causing fan interest to dramatically dissipate as audiences weren’t entirely enthralled by the new era. Once these icons were replaced with nonsense like Katie Vick and “HLA,” people tuned out entirely, a fact reflected in both WWE ratings and their quarterly stock reports.
In June of 2002, the company’s stock was at 14.60 per share, dropping a full 50% to only 7.1 by October.
It isn’t clear exactly how much McMahon lost in this ordeal personally, but there’s no way anyone with WWE stock came out of the situation in the black.