News

Advertisers Dump on WWF

12/05/1999 7:00 PM Eastern

The World Wrestling Federation's raw but popular wrestling
programming came under fire last week, as several advertisers pulled out of its highly
rated broadcast-syndicated and cable programs due to the WWF's often violent and sexually
suggestive antics.

As a result, the WWF will tone down its Smackdown
weekly United Paramount Network broadcast-syndicated show, but it will not alter its Raw
Is War
USA Network cable series, company officials said.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., the U.S. Army and, according
to reports, the U.S. Coast Guard have all pulled their ads from the WWF's television
programs after a grassroots advocacy group, the Parents Television Council, lobbied WWF
advertisers to take a closer look at the often-lewd antics aired by the wrestling group.

AT&T Corp. and candy-bar company Mars Inc. also pulled
their ads from the syndicated Smackdown show, but they continue to advertise on the
company's cable shows, WWF senior vice president of marketing Jim Byrne said.

All had bought time on the WWF's TV and cable-network
coverage to reach the millions of young males aged 18 to 34 who are among the estimated 6
million-plus people viewing USA's Raw Is War on Monday nights and UPN's WWF
Smackdown
on Thursday nights -- both powerhouses in Nielsen Media Research's weekly
ratings reports.

At Coca-Cola, spokesman Bob Bertini said the company had
"reached the point where we felt that the WWF was no longer an appropriate
environment" for Coke's commercials.

Coke, however, remains a sponsor of Atlanta-based World
Championship Wrestling's cable show, Monday Night Nitro, which carries a
"TV-14" rating. "We think it's real interesting that [Coca-Cola] is working
with a franchise one-half the size of ours whose programming is TV-14 and is based in
Atlanta," Byrne said.

PTC chairman L. Brent Bozell disclosed last week that those
dropping the WWF now include Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., the U.S. Navy and
Wendy's International Inc., as well.

Because they leave time buying to their ad agencies, some
of the marketers "didn't realize they were on the [WWF] shows until we sent them the
video," Bozell said. "Some were immediately repulsed." He contended that
offensive segments included wrestlers making masturbatory and anal-sex gestures.

But Byrne said the PTC is attempting to push its own set of
values onto the viewing public. "The PTC would love to live in a world where they
could choose what people should see -- a concept we find very scary," he added.

Nevertheless, Byrne said, the company will "tone
down" Smackdown's content to earn the show a "TV-PG" rating. He
added that the show will feature less sexuality and less colorful language than it's been
previously known for. "We're in the business to work with and attract
advertisers," he said.

Further, the WWF will not feature "certain"
wrestlers on Smackdown who are staples of its Raw Is War show, although
Byrne would not reveal specific names. He added that the company will take a "close
look" at Raw Is War, but it has no plans to make any content changes.

Representatives from USA could not be reached for comment
at press time.

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