Thank heaven for professional wrestling -- so say
cable-operator pay-per-view executives these days.
The latest edition, the Aug. 31 World Wrestling Federation SummerSlam,
performed splendidly, PPV managers said last week. The basic-cable mainstay is no
substitute for Mike Tyson's heavyweight paydays, but it's the biggest thing
going in the world of PPV events.
"This stuff is continuing to save us this year on the
event side, no question," said Coaxial Communications vice president Gregg Graff,
general manager of the Columbus, Ohio, system.
Without the benefit of outside celebrities like Jay Leno or
Dennis Rodman, SummerSlam delivered 1,241 buys for Coaxial -- just shy of
April's WWF Wrestlemania XIV, which featured a heavily hyped appearance by
Overall buy figures could not be obtained at press time.
But a WWF official said the estimate is that there were more than 500,000 buys -- far
above the 234,000 recorded for last year's SummerSlam event.
The category's strength continues to build, buttressed
by WWF and World Championship Wrestling weekly shows on USA Network and Turner Network
Television, respectively. In an added bit of cross-promotion, USA promoted a WWF
merchandise hour on Home Shopping Network -- which is also owned by USA Networks Inc. --
following the PPV event. HSN said it got 10,000 calls and sold $250,000 worth of T-shirts,
videos and other merchandise.
Ted Hodgins, PPV manager at Media General Cable of Fairfax,
Va., said about 2,000 subscribers ordered SummerSlam, versus 700 to 1,000 for
similar past events. The event was well-promoted, he added. In several markets, including
Fairfax County, there were tie-ins with local radio stations and free trips to see the
event at Madison Square Garden in New York. And Media General mailed out 7,000 promotional
pieces, to every household that had ever bought a wrestling event.
But the sales were still a surprise, Hodgins said.
"The moon must have been in alignment with the sun or
something, because everything clicked," he added.
Event revenue is down because of the absence of
heavyweight-boxing events, which carry price tags of up to about $50, compared with $29.95
for wrestling. But Hodgins noted that the wrestling events are solid producers, and that
they come along twice per month.
Wrestling has accounted for 64 percent of Media
General's event revenue this year, versus 7 percent for boxing, while boxing outpaced
wrestling 57 percent to 23 percent last year, and the ratio was 67 percent for boxing and
19 percent for wrestling the year before, he said.
In Sacramento, Calif., Comcast Corp. PPV-product manager
Cindy Caverly credited the WWF's and WCW's ability to build "story
lines" that generate interest in the events. "We're happy," she said.
"They should keep it up."
It's not just PPV that wrestling is helping: The genre
generally dominates the top 10 basic-cable ratings each week.
Even with wrestling, however, many MSOs' PPV revenues
were down more than 40 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago. That's
because of the notorious Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight last June, when Tyson bit his
opponent and got his license revoked.
The Nevada Athletic Commission is scheduled to rule Sept.
19 on whether to reinstate Tyson, which could allow him to box late in the year.
Tyson got into more trouble last week, which could hurt his
chances for returning to the ring. A preliminary hearing is set for Oct. 2 on
misdemeanor-assault charges against Tyson stemming from a three-car auto accident Aug. 31
in Washington, D.C.