Ops Worry: Will Wrestling KO Tyson?

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Mike Tyson's decision to moonlight in the wrestling
ring is worrying some cable operators who fear that the move might cut into future
pay-per-view paydays. Other operators, however, see Tyson as a meal ticket to boost Wrestlemania
business.

Interest in Tyson's March 29 Wrestlemania
appearance skyrocketed last Monday, after the former heavyweight champion engaged in a
pushing match with World Wrestling Federation wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin during the
WWF's Monday Night Nitro show. Supposedly, Tyson was there to announce his
intention to referee a match; now, the script apparently calls for Tyson to wrestle Austin
as part of the PPV event.

Bonnie Werth, president and CEO of Team Services, which is
handling the marketing and public relations for the event, believes that Tyson's name
alone could double last year's total of more than 250,000 Wrestlemania buys.

That would provide a major PPV boost for the WWF, which has
struggled in recent years while its rival, World Championship Wrestling, has been thriving
on PPV, on Turner Network Television and in syndication. Indeed, TNT's two-hour WCW
block on Jan. 12 averaged a 4.6 Nielsen Media Research rating and ended up as the top two
basic-cable shows for the week, according to TBS Research. (Each hour is listed as a
separate show.)

'There will certainly be a curiosity factor that will
bring new people to the WWF to see what it's all about,' said Patty McCaskill,
vice president of programming and PPV for Charter Communications Inc. 'Tyson has huge
revenue potential, and none of us wants to jeopardize that.'

But the question is: How will the move -- which will net
Tyson about $2 million -- sit with the Nevada Athletic Commission, which will determine in
July whether to lift Tyson's lifetime ban from boxing? The commission expelled Tyson
after he bit Evander Holyfield's ear during their PPV-revenue-record-breaking fight
in June.

While commission executive director Marc Ratner could not
be reached for comment, published reports have said that the five-man commission cannot
stop Tyson from wrestling. But those reports, out of the Las Vegas Sun, said the
commission was mixed on whether Tyson's wrestling stunt will reflect negatively on
his potential reinstatement to boxing. In polling the panel, the Sun found one
commissioner against Tyson wrestling and two saying that it didn't matter, while two
members declined to comment.

Some operators believe that Tyson is taking an unnecessary
risk to his boxing future by wrestling on PPV. By appearing in the often circus atmosphere
of professional wrestling, executives fear that Tyson will further damage his already
tarnished image as a boxer, thereby limiting his appeal if he should return to boxing.

'We would prefer Mr. Tyson to focus on staying in
shape and preparing for the day when he will hopefully be reinstated to boxing,' said
T.J. Connolly, vice president of public affairs for Paragon Cable of San Antonio.
'[Wrestling] is not the best way to rehabilitate his career.'

Tyson's relationship with TitanSports could also
infringe on the fighter's contract with Showtime Event Television, which has entered
into a long-term agreement with Tyson and promoter Don King to distribute Tyson's
events on PPV. It is unclear whether Tyson can legally participate in an event that is not
distributed by SET.

Representatives from SET declined to comment on the matter.

Jay Larkin, senior vice president of Showtime Sports and
Event Programming, did say, however, that Tyson's WWF appearance would do more harm
than good for the fighter's future interests.

'There is no upside in the rehabilitation of Mike
Tyson's image in doing this,' Larkin said. 'Restoring Mike's
credibility is very important to his future, and I don't see that this does anything
to make that happen.'

But other PPV executives believe that Tyson's
appearance will only enhance his appeal. The fighter is the biggest PPV star ever, having
participated in the top four highest-grossing PPV events of all time and in six of the top
10.

'I think that his appearance in Wrestlemania
will enhance him as an entertainer, as an athlete and as a person,' Werth said.
'Tyson is still the greatest PPV attraction, and he can continue to be after the
event.'

'People understand the difference between boxing and
wrestling,' said Ted Hodgins, manager of PPV for Media General of Fairfax, Va.
'It only heightens [Tyson's and PPV's] value because of the exposure --
people will start talking about PPV, and the WWF needs a shot in the arm.'

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