In the year 1998, Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling reported a higher net gain than any other wrestling company in history up to that point. In other words, WCW made more money in a single year than even Vince McMahon could have dreamed of at the time. Then, in less than three years, WCW somehow managed to screw things up so royally that the company was losing twice as much annually as it once made, quickly driving the promotion out of business and leaving McMahon the victor of the Monday Night Wars.
Ultimately, there’s no one reason WCW suffered such a massive reversal of fortunes, but rather dozens and dozens of mounting issues that reached a dramatic fever pitch at the organization’s peak. In fact, there was never really a point when WCW was “firing on all cylinders” as it were, with quiet problems always brewing below the surface, ready to explode the second any number of key individuals started feeling like their voice wasn’t being heard.
Even on those rare days when the entire roster was happy, WCW executives simply had no idea how to run a wrestling show and blew shocking amounts of cash to accomplish things that were almost entirely pointless. Just about every former employee of the company has at least one or two stories that will make audiences shake their heads in disbelief, wondering how Ted Turner could approve of someone throwing away his fortune in such a reckless manner. For all the details on who hurt Turner’s wallet the most, keep reading to learn all about 15 shocking and ridiculous ways World Championship Wrestling wasted millions of dollars.
15 Hosting An Annual Free Pay-Per-View
For all the negatives detailed on this list, one thing WCW actually did right was present major shows from unique settings, making them immediately stand out as something special.
Unfortunately, while this gave the company a modern look, it occasionally backfired by costing them loads of potential ticket sale revenue.
Well, maybe “occasionally” is the wrong word, as the prime example of this trend actually happened on an annual basis. Every August, the company would head to Sturgis, South Dakota for the world’s biggest motorcycle rally, treating their biker fans with a free (to the live crowd) Pay-Per-View they called Road Wild. Each time they did so, they were literally giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars in ticket sales. The event also had the negative side effect of exposing how racist some WCW fans could be, as Harlem Heat typically received the loudest boos of the night regardless of how they were booked.
14 Flying Every Wrestler To Every Show
On top of making more money than any other wrestling company at the time, WCW was also gifted with the largest talent roster the industry had ever seen. At certain points, the organization boasted it showcased well over 100 highly diverse superstars, which certainly sounds impressive on paper. There was a catch, though, in that there was nowhere near enough time to treat every single one of them as a star, let alone give them any TV time at all.
However, because WCW was often booked at the last minute, they couldn’t split hairs about who to send to which TV taping. Company executives literally didn’t know who they wanted to wrestle on Nitro until it happened, so they had to fly the entire massive roster to every single show just in case they felt like using them that night.
No matter how they worked things out from there, this meant a solid 70 or more wrestlers who just traveled across the country for no reason, all on the company dime.
13 Stealing Bret Hart Just To Destroy Him
Despite only spending barely over two years in the company, Bret Hart was the third-highest paid employee in WCW history after Hollywood Hogan and Goldberg. This is because the Hitman was a seriously big deal in the late 1990s, and the bidding war WCW won to steal him away from WWE was intensely fought on both sides.
12 Half A Million Dollars For An Ice Cold Wrestler
Upon first glances, it’s entirely understandable why some WCW fans still have fond memories of Glacier making his way to the ring. Each time blood ran cold and Glacier was set to compete, the arena lights dimmed to an ethereal blue, allowing for a spectacular light show that also featured fake snow falling from the rafters and filling the arena.
The only problem is that once it was over, all that fans had left to enjoy was a Glacier match, and the cryonic superstar simply wasn’t anywhere near as good as his entrance.
Glacier toughed it out with WCW for four years, never once winning a title or even competing in any noteworthy matches. Chances are this made Eric Bischoff heavily reconsider spending over $400,000 on the snow and light machines necessary to piece the entrance together, plus $35,000 for Glacier’s massive blue armor, and another $10,000 every single time he walked to the ring and got the full treatment.
11 Hiring Random Celebrities People Didn’t Want To See
Celebrities in professional wrestling have always been a mixed bag, but promoters are unlikely to ever give up on the trend, because when it works, it tends to work extremely well for all concerned parties. Of course, the flip-side to this is that when it doesn’t work, celebrities have a tendency to turn sports entertainment into an utter disaster, something that happened on countless occasions in WCW. For once, this isn’t even about David Arquette, as the former actor/World Champion was a genuine fan of the sport who didn’t require a huge fee to be part of the show. Others with less interest in wrestling like Master P or the band KISS did ask for big bucks, though, earning somewhere around $250,000 each for their various appearances. Soul legend James Brown also earned a nice chunk of change for a random and entirely unadvertised appearance on Pay-Per-View. Not that wrestling fans even wanted to see any of these musicians interrupt their show in the first place, which was the real problem from the start.
10 Constantly Disappointing The Fans
For the most part, this list is trying to focus on financial decisions specifically, in order to prevent it from simply becoming another string of reminders that WCW produced some really bad wrestling from time to time.
That said, this fact cannot be ignored, as it played a huge role in a how a company went from making millions one year to losing twice as much the next. When WCW was at it’s peak, fans actually wanted to tune in and catch the action.
The main event scene genuinely featured the biggest icons in wrestling, and all the lower card athletes were desperate to win over the largest audience the sport had ever seen. As time went on and it became clear the little guys weren’t ever going to get a chance, and fans started to get bored of the same old stuff on top, these pros quickly turned into cons, causing people to lose interest. Worse, the content WCW produced was just awful, with poorly plotted matches competed by lazy workers getting all the attention and forcing viewers to change the channel.
9 Paying Ric Flair To Sit At Home
No matter how bad WCW got, there were always certain wrestlers who gave it their all, making fans rabid to watch whatever the company let them do. High on the list of this rare caliber performer was “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, an eventual 16 time World Champion who won most of his gold working for Ted Turner. None of those titles came in 1998, though, as Flair spent a large portion of the year sitting at home and collecting his massive paycheques due to a personal feud with Eric Bischoff.
The official story is that Flair was suspended for missing a random WCW appearance, but others like Scott Hall and Kevin Nash got away with that on a weekly basis without punishment. Although Flair was more popular and a bigger star than either of them, he was less friendly with Bischoff, so he was sent packing.
However, Flair’s contract meant Bischoff couldn’t exactly fire him or even cut the man’s pay, temporarily making the Nature Boy an extremely wealthy stay-at-home dad, until he spent all his money on booze, of course.
8 Handing Out Guaranteed Contracts To Everyone
Before Vince McMahon turned pro wrestling into an international, mainstream affair, business operated a whole lot differently. In addition to all the aesthetic changes Vince made, the way wrestlers got paid also needed to adapt along with the idea they may not be as professionally nomadic as they once were. Back in the 1980s, it was quite commonplace for a wrestler to work for a promotion a couple weeks then leave and go elsewhere, only earning paycheques for the days they actually competed.
During the Attitude Era, WWE introduced the idea of a guaranteed contract where lucky wrestlers would get paid a big salary whether they got in the ring or not.
Though McMahon introduced this trend, WCW took it to its furthest conclusions almost instantly, offering huge guaranteed contracts to almost everyone on the roster, throwing away millions and millions of dollars just to make sure their wrestlers wouldn’t be able to work anywhere else.
7 Michael Buffer’s Constant Appearances
Leeeeet’s get ready to…make it clear this sentence is a parody, because if it weren’t, we’d need to pay Michael Buffer some serious money for using his trademarked catchphrase. WCW accountants certainly know how important that distinction is, as they doled out huge checks to the boxing announcer on a weekly basis just so he would say it on almost every episode of Monday Nitro.
Buffer’s appearance fee is allegedly in the $25,000 range, which over the span of a year means WCW gave the guy over $1 million to blatantly read from cue cards before saying a single original sentence.
Granted, had they only done this once or twice per year, reserving Buffer for the truly huge matches, the strategy may have actually been worth it. However, bringing the guy in every single week was an entirely unnecessary expense that dwarves almost all other funds wasted on celebrities combined.
6 Giving Away Huge Matches On Free TV
Since Pay-Per-View has been the primary method for airing wrestling’s biggest matches, it’s also been the most surefire way sports entertainment companies can bring in the big bucks. All they need is one very special bout, pitting two of their biggest superstars against one another, and fans should theoretically start throwing money at their TVs begging for the opportunity to see it. Rather than honor this time-tested formula, WCW decided it was more important to pop a rating on Monday night and beat Raw than it was to actually make fans spend money on the company. Case in point, one of the biggest matches in WCW history was a sudden and unadvertised match between Hollywood Hogan and Goldberg, which could have easily made a million dollars in one night on Pay-Per-View. It didn’t, though, and WCW further decided not to even bother with a rematch. They did the same thing with Goldberg’s first matches against Sting, Ric Flair, and The Giant, among others, not to mention countless examples that didn’t involve Da Man.
5 Failing To Advertise Pay-Per-View Matches
It’s bad enough that WCW gave away matches on free TV rather than selling them for $60 a pop on Pay-Per-View. Making matters significantly worse is the fact their booking style made it almost impossible to advertise any shows whatsoever all that far in advance, at least in terms of who would actually appear or what they would do.
To be fair, WCW usually planned out Hulk Hogan’s appearances well in advance, but if the Hulkster wasn’t on the card, they had no idea what was happening until it happened.
This meant all Pay-Per-View companies could advertise is that some WCW superstar would be on the show, and they’d presumably be wrestling one another. In one particularly infamous occasion, all WCW could advertise was the fact the show would be so cutting edge not even Pay-Per-View companies had any idea what it would contain. This didn’t build intrigue; it bred immediate indifference, a feeling that then permeated through WCW until the day it went out of business.
4 Sending Empty FedEx Boxes
Ridiculous as they sound in retrospect, the truth is that almost everything on this list could probably be justified at the time as Eric Bischoff having unlimited access to Ted Turner’s money and using it to experiment. No such luck with this next issue, which was simply a case of horrific management that no rational accountant could ever possible explain.
How often it happened is unclear, but at least once, WCW executives went through the trouble of shipping Chris Jericho a large box via Federal Express, only for Y2J to open it up and discover there was absolutely nothing inside.
Obviously, sending a package through FedEx isn’t all that expensive, especially compared to Michael Buffer’s contract. However, other wrestlers have reported similar stories, and the complete lack of purpose behind the move makes it perhaps WCW’s most wasteful gesture of all.
3 Producing Popular Music And Refusing To Sell It
In a slight departure from everything else on our list, this next item is more an issue of WCW leaving money on the table than it is outright wasting it. Believe it or not, for as musically brain dead as the geniuses who hired KISS and Master P appeared on the surface, they actually produced an unlikely country hit by teaming up Curt Hennig with a few West Texas Rednecks. Collectively, the group recorded two songs, “I Hate Rap” and “Good Old Boys,” both of which were extremely popular with the company’s southern fried fans.
In fact, the Rednecks tunes were so endearing that certain radio stations actually recorded their TV sets and played them on the air. Theoretically, this means WCW could have allowed the Rednecks to release an album, earning some bonus money on the country charts and earning an incredible amount of free advertising at the same time.
Instead, they started threatening any DJ that played the song on air with a lawsuit, directly refusing to let Hennig and company shine.
2 Six-Figure Contracts For Jobbers
Okay, so names like Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Michael Buffer were receiving massive, unspeakable amounts of money with their highly specialized contracts, but these guys were all big stars in their own right. Not so much for someone like Scott Norton, an nWo b-team heavy who rarely so much as had a feud of his own, but still managed to make about $300,000 per year. Norton’s former tag team partner Ice Train was also in the six-figure range, despite few fans even knowing who the heck he was after Norton dumped him for the black and white. Granted, it isn’t really fair to single these two out, as an incredible number of mid-card names were making hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to lose one or two five minute matches per month on WCW Saturday Night. We’re talking Chris Adams, Michael Wallstreet, Van Hammer, Mike Enos, John Nord, even Barry freakin’ Horowitz—names a fan could watch every single WCW Pay-Per-View without ever seeing. Sure, it was nice of WCW to give them so much money to do so little, but it was not in any way necessary.
1 Hulk Hogan’s Ridiculous Contract
In his own words, Hulk Hogan was the biggest icon in wrestling when the Monday Night Wars began, and Eric Bischoff for one seemed to completely agree with him. This was clear from the moment Bisch aggressively pursued Hogan’s contract in 1994, and it was cemented many times over in 1998, when the Hulkster received what may well be the most lucrative contract in wrestling history.
In fairness, Hogan’s status as leader of the nWo genuinely made him the top star in WCW at the time, and maybe that justified his $2 million signing bonus and $675,000 Pay-Per-View appearance fee. That wasn’t nearly all, though, as Hogan also earned 25 per cent of the ticket sales for every single show he appeared on, an outrageous concession that essentially gave the Hulkster a quarter of the company’s gross profits.
No other wrestler in history has been given a deal anything like this, and it’s not like WWE was about to offer Hogan one to make a comeback, so we have no idea why WCW gave him so much to stick around.
Sources: indicate this lead to Hart earning a cool $2.5 million per year, which would also suggest Eric Bischoff intended to keep treating him like the star he had been for Vince McMahon.
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